At a coffee house in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Fremont, Moina Shaiq launched a program last year where she offered to give answers to questions on “being a Muslim”. She started the “Meet a Muslim” program after she felt that even her friends felt scared to ask her questions about her religion fearing that she might get hurt. She had then posted an advertisement in a California newspaper: “Questions and answers about being Muslim” where she said she would answer questions like ‘Are women oppressed in Islam? What is the Islamic view of terrorism? How does Islam view other religions?’

In the first meeting itself, she saw nearly 100 people turn up. “It was over overwhelming,” said Shaiq. Since that day, Shaiq, a mother of four and grandmother, has answered questions at dozens of libraries, pizza parlors and coffee shops in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has also taken the program to churches, service clubs and private homes. Recently, she also traveled to Arizona and Atlanta for the initiative, all this by spending money out of her own pocket.

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She holds these gives the talks once or twice a week. She started the initiative to educate people about Islam while addressing the misconceptions and stereotypes that people have around the faith. Among the many issues that she talks about are the importance of the hijab (head scarf) or niqab (face covering), the differences between Sunnis and Shias (the two main sects of Islam), the rights of women in Islam, and what it’s like to be an American Muslim today.

The concept is not a new one though. Such programs were also held after 9/11 when Muslims needed to dispel the negative perceptions around their religion with their fellow Americans. The events are now picking up pace due to the recent rise in anti-Muslim crimes.

She has faced several threats owing to her program too. A man in Atlanta had once threatened her saying that he would “slit her throat” if she said something he didn’t like.

A Muslim and former US Marine Mansoor Shams had traveled the country earlier this year carrying a signboard that read “I’m a Muslim and a US Marine, Ask Me Anything.” In in 2015 Mona Haydar and her husband sat outside a library in Cambridge, Massachusetts with coffee, doughnuts and a sign that read: “Ask a Muslim.”

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At a recent Rotary club meeting in Fremont, a man asked how she thinks people can combat Muslim extremism. “This is where you start,” Shaiq said. “You understand what the faith is.”

(Source: Associated Press)

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