When I first contemplated the opportunity to speak at TED, my motivation came from a need to share a story about a struggle of identity. As I started to pen my talk, I became increasingly aware that if I was chosen to speak at the TEDx conference, I would have an opportunity to counter the negative, false and inflammatory stereotypes that many hold about the Prophet of Islam and Muslims in general, stereotypes that breed injury to Muslims and the communities they live in.
In February 2018, I was invited to pitch my talk alongside 19 other aspiring hopefuls; three speakers were chosen and invited to return in May to speak at the TEDx Awake and Aware Conference in Traverse City, Michigan. When I took the stage, I knew that I wanted my audience to walk away with an understanding of the dangers of Islamophobia, so I asked them to contemplate what came to mind when they thought of Muslims: tolerance, love and peace or bigotry, hatred and terrorism? Their post-talk response: an overwhelming heartfelt standing ovation, genuine embraces and an acknowledgement we need work harder to counter the hatred that is tearing apart our communities.
During my talk, I focused on highlighting the identity struggle Muslims experience; they are at once ostracized by their own communities for being too Western, and at the same time, implicated by the larger non-Muslim community in the actions of individuals and groups who have hijacked Islam to endorse their own twisted interpretation of Islam. What results is a distorted typecast that causes widespread unease in attitudes toward Muslims, promotes racist stereotypes, and encourages backlash against Muslims in general. Furthermore, with anti-Muslim sentiments and hate crimes on the rise, Muslims become overly apprehensive in the wake of any attack for fear that the perpetrator might have ties to Islam. They dread the overwhelming pressure to offer a collective apology for a crime they did not commit and brace for the hateful backlash that usually ensues.
In this environment of fear, the Muslim voice is lost, drowned out by xenophobia, bigotry and hatred. Muslims become compelled to alter their outward appearance and personalities in an attempt escape injury and to blend in within the dominant culture. Soon, all that remains of an Islamic identity is a trace of a name.
I wanted to change and reclaim my name, my identity and the Muslim narrative. So I asked invited the audience to consider what society would look like if we could become more accepting of the beliefs and customs of others, if we could gain greater awareness and respect for universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, if we could change racist policies that condone and promote Islamophobia and wider racial injustice. Together, we could rewrite the definition of inclusion and reform a culture of fear by finding common values to counter hatred with love, bigotry with tolerance, and terrorism with peace.
My talk can be found here:
Thank you for listening and sharing.