Muslims share experiences in unity-building effort
Muslim panelists at a forum in Monroeville told stories of harassment, of their children being bullied, of living in America at a time when actions of Islamic extremists over the years have made things tough for good people practicing their religion.
Organizers of the discussion — “From Ignorance to Action: Are Refugees Welcome Here?” — said panelists were invited to share their stories to promote “unity, dialogue and action” to improve relations of all races and religions in the Pittsburgh region.
“We wanted people who may have never spoken to a Muslim to learn about what their life is like and how current events have impacted them, and how to be better neighbors,” said event organizer Moriah Ella Mason, co-founder of the Jewish Voice for Peace in Pittsburgh.
Wiam Younes, a Jordanian immigrant and Muslim who teaches at Carnegie Mellon University and works with Middle Eastern refugees, said the nation has been getting increasingly hostile toward refugees — so much so that going back to the oppressive countries they came from becomes an option worth considering.
“They escaped fear and came with faith, hopes and dreams of a better life, especially for their children,” she said. Now they are saying “send me back and I’ll die with dignity.”
Younes and two other Muslim women spoke to an audience of about 60 at the Monroeville Public Library during the event last week.
Pittsburgh native Christine Mohamed converted to Islam in 2008. Mohamed was a Roman Catholic who’d worked for the Diocese in Pittsburgh before her conversion.
Since Donald Trump — a strong proponent of immigration reform who adopted travel restrictions many believe targeted Muslims — became president, Mohamed said her children have felt “unwelcome and unsafe,” and have been subject to bullying in the form of obscene gestures and taunts.
“They see one Muslim and think we are all violent and want to harm people,” Mohamed said of those who mistreat her family.
Sarah Jameela Martin, who converted from Christianity to Islam in college, has lived in Pittsburgh the majority of her adult life. Martin described herself as a “struggling adult Muslim in the 60s” during a tumultuous time in U.S. history with the Black Power Movement and the rise of the Nation of Islam.
“We’re accustomed to this. The struggle for justice, equality and the fair treatment of people has always been prominent in my life and people around me,” said Martin. “This is not new for us as Americans and this is not new for us as refugees coming into the country.”
She said good people must stand up and combat unfair treatment of Muslims by “doing what you think is right for your family and your children. I’m not worried. I know that good conquers evil.”
Vivienne Selia of Murrysville attended the forum because she was concerned about a “rise in the level of negative attitudes, hate and anger rather than respect for different faiths.”
Selia, whose father was an immigrant from Wales, is Christian. She said the way Muslims and immigrants are being treated in America is “unacceptable.”
“This is a country where we have always welcomed immigrants,” she said. “We need programs like this. They give us an opportunity to learn things we can do to counteract all the negativity.”
Samson X Horne is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325 or [email protected].