CAIR Ambassadors Training: Responding to Islamophobia


Saturday, April 7, 2018 (All day)


100 Malcolm X Blvd, Roxbury, MA 02120, USA
"All Muslims aren't terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim." "The Quran is more violent than the Bible." "Sharia law is coming to take over our country." "We need to keep out Muslims to stop terrorism." Too many of us have heard these and similar statements not just in the media, but from friends, co-workers, or even family members. This workshop will examine some of the most common misconceptions about Islam and Muslims, and work with participants to develop strategies for responding to them using research-based messaging. The goal is to be able to counter this negative messaging on the local and human level, and to change hearts and minds about Islam. NOTE: This workshop is open to both Muslims and allies, with people of all backgrounds extremely welcome! Pluralism Project Summary: On a sunny Saturday afternoon, thirty well-meaning community members from the Greater Boston area slowly trickled into the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, navigated past the raucous elementary-aged children who had just been released from their religion class and were now careening around the mosque playing tag, and made their way upstairs to attend the training on responding to Islamophobia sponsored by Council on American-Islamic Relations Massachusetts (CAIR-MA). Roughly seventy percent of the attendees were non-Muslim. Most of the non-Muslims were white, and most of the Muslims were Arab or South Asian, with an even number of men and women in attendance. The presentation was supposed to begin at 2pm, but John Robbins, the director of CAIR-MA, could not get the projector to work. One of the event organizers whispered dryly “welcome to the Muslim community,” a remark met with appreciative laughter. Twenty-five minutes later a mosque caretaker, a short, older gentleman, fixed the projector and was greeted with applause. Robbins started the PowerPoint presentation with a brief overview of the historical roots of Islamophobia in the United States. He then provided background information and responses to standard Islamophobic allegations which he divided into four categories: sharia law, women’s rights, violence in the Qur’an, and the Muslim “invasion” of America. Robbins stressed that people do not have to be experts in Islam in order to combat Islamophobia. He cautioned against vitriolic responses to Islamophobic comments, and instead encouraged attendees to take a calm and personalized approach, explaining, “Saying, ‘my friend Maryam,’ or, ‘my doctor Mohammad,’ and providing humanizing examples of Muslims is much more effective than spouting statistics.” He also argued that in-person interactions are much more effective than virtual ones. After the half-hour presentation, attendees divided into four groups, each led by a CAIR organizer or volunteer. Each group brainstormed common Islamophobic comments based on situations they had experienced or heard about in their own lives, and then practiced roleplaying responses and giving each other feedback. Organizers steered attendees towards choosing scenarios that were of the everyday “your relative makes a casual racist comment at Thanksgiving” variety, rather than less common or more volatile scenarios that would require involving outside parties such as CAIR or law enforcement officials. Organizers emphasized that the goal of these interactions was not to completely change someone’s perspective within the scope of one interaction, but simply to plant a seed in their minds. An hour after the breakout sessions the group came back together for a ten-minute debrief. Robbins thanked the group for their time and reiterated how important it was to the Muslim community to have strong non-Muslim allies. He encouraged everyone to attend an Open Mosque Day event the following day, and if possible to bring with them friends who had never been to a mosque before. This summary was written by a Pluralism Project staff member who attended the event.