Above: Rashida Tlaib speaking to Council tonight; immediately to the left of her is Dr. Abdalmajid Katranji, who also spoke.
In an effort to signal support for Muslim, Arab, and Arab-American members of our community, in June, East Lansing’s City Council endorsed the national “Take on Hate” campaign by passing a resolution in support. Tonight at Council, members of the Islamic Society of Greater Lansing and the Islamic Center of East Lansing spoke to Council about the campaign, which seeks to promote “positive images of Arab and Muslim Americans, and engages our non-Muslim and non-Arab neighbors to help build a greater capacity for understanding communities across the United States.”
At Council tonight, Mayor Nathan Triplett read the resolution and thanked members of the community who have supported the campaign. Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim-American woman to serve in the Michigan Legislature, spoke about her own son admitting he is afraid to say he is Muslim. She also spoke about discriminatory acts and increasing bigotry and violence towards Muslims, Arabs, and Arab-Americans in the United States. She said, “We should not be targeted….Our children should not be targeted and should not be afraid to say they are Muslim.”
Dr. Abdalmajid Katranji, a physician, also spoke, telling those in attendance that he values how people in East Lansing are proud of where they came from and who they are. He praised the East Lansing and MSU communities for welcoming people of diverse backgrounds and faiths.
Earlier this week, I asked Thasin Sardar, Outreach Coordinator for the Islamic Center of East Lansing, whether this resolution is a useful way to support Muslim members of our community. Sardar responded, “We are grateful to the City of East Lansing for reaching out to our community and to make us feel accommodated. We welcome this resolution as a proactive measure to ensure our safety and wellbeing. In light of prevailing climate of mistrust stemming from ignorance and divisive politics in different parts of the country, such a resolution will keep misguided elements in check from harming any of our members, and also prevent them from committing any acts that are contrary to the values of our otherwise welcoming community.”
I also asked Sardar whether there other ways the East Lansing community can better support its Muslim members. To this, Sardar replied, “I think the possibilities for supporting our members is endless. In fact, it goes both ways. It needs to be mutual. We all need to be good neighbors, responsible citizens and appreciate the diversity that exists in our communities.”
He added, “We at the Islamic Center for example, encourage our members to increase our outreach, civic engagement, volunteerism and contributions to our local communities and we try our best to propagate the vision and mission of our local city and community leaders as well as guidelines issued at [a] national level aimed at bettering our local communities and thus our country as a whole. Likewise, when we see divisive politics, misinformation in the media, generalization of acts of individuals and blaming of the entire religion of 1.6 billion people, we expect fellow community members to speak up and denounce such accusations and ill-propaganda.”
Earlier in the week, I asked Mayor Triplett why he considers it important for East Lansing to participate in this national campaign. Because the resolution specifically calls on governments to “change policies that could be considered to have inherent biases,” I also asked Triplett whether he thinks East Lansing has any such policies, and if so, how he envisioned changing them. I have not received a response.
Sardar says the experience of the members of the Islamic Society of Greater Lansing and the Islamic Center of East Lansing have been generally positive: “While there have been isolated acts of hate stemming from ignorance and misinformation, East Lansing and Michigan State University has been a welcoming community and we look forward to a day, when resolutions such as the one the City is passing will not be necessary and we can all focus our energies on building rather than worrying.”
Note: This article contains material originally published in a shorter article on August 3, 2015.