Speaker discusses 'Islamaphobia' to crowd of 130 Monday for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Amer Ahmed denounces the misconception that the religion of Islam and its Muslims followers have an inherent anti-American tie to their faith.

“People point to Islamic law and people say the laws of Islam teach people values and beliefs that are in conflict with American values and principles,” Ahmed, associate director for the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, said. “Most Muslims I meet and know are people in the U.S. ... (and) ... who value American democratic principles and view Islamic tradition in line with that."

About 130 people listened to Ahmed Monday evening in the Bovee University Center’s auditorium address post-Sept. 11 myths, truths and stereotypes of Islam. This event was part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

Ahmed discussed why he felt some individuals in the U.S. and around the world have "Islamaphobia."

“You might hear a lot of things in the media about Islam and terrorism and all sorts of crazy things like that,” he said. “But what I am going to do today is try to give you reliable information and kind of balance what I feel like are distorted distortions and misrepresentations that we oftentimes get through our media."

Through mostly socio-cultural, historical and political context around Islam and its presence around the world and U.S., Ahmed talked about the five pillars of Islam: accepting Muhammad as God's messenger, the Islamic prayer consisting of five daily prayers, ritual during the month of Ramadan, giving and the Hajj, a pilgrimage during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah to the holy city of Mecca.

“Even if you are a non-Muslim Arabic speaker, if you say 'Allah' you are talking about God,” Ahmed said. “Just like in English people who follow many faiths will use the word 'God' … and the reality is that the word 'Allah' is referring to the same concept of God."

In between his discussion, he showed video clips that attempted to break down misconceptions of Islamic beliefs.

Ahmed also said the percentage of Arabs that are Muslim around the world is only 18 percent. The largest Muslim population is in Indonesia while the second is in India.

“Arab and Muslim are used interchangeably sometimes,” he said. “It is very common.”

In reality South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Africa are the largest populations of Muslims all over the world, he said.

Kimbell freshman Kalvin Chapman said this event did a great job of enlightening him on some of the experiences of the Islam community.

“I studied this a lot in my own free time,” he said. “But I think it brought the issue forefront into my mind because I want to talk about it with people.”

Keisha Janney, assistant director of Minority Student Services, said the speaker broke down some of the basic things that are self-created barriers people tend to create.

“We are humans," she said. "We all have different beliefs and values and I think that is one of the fundamental things that help break down those barriers — to recognize the humanity and the basic connection that we all have as human beings.”