Using multi-media to break down stereotypes of Muslims

Oct 23, 2012

A new local group is using creative media to explain the religion of Islam and to break down stereotypes of Muslims.

WBFO'S Eileen Buckley recently sat down with Western New York Muslims, an organization that is being led and managed by young Muslim women. 

WNYMuslims is a youth group that has carved out a mission to share their diverse and religious customs with the community through educational materials and working to foster new friendships among citizens. They're using multi-media platforms from videos to social media to digitally promote their mission.  

"They're very smart. They're very intelligent," said Faizan Haq, the original founder and editor in chief of WNY Muslims.  It started on a Yahoo list sever in the early Internet days in 1996. 

"I think they on the whole, I think they make less mistakes because they believe in collaborative decision making," said Haq.   

Haq has been living in the Buffalo area for 30 years.  After attending college here, he decided to stay. Haq also teaches at UB and Buffalo State College. 

"A new generation takes over and generates new ideas. So give them a platform," said Haq.  "We are very inclusive. So our editorial board includes Muslims as well non-Muslims."

Haq described work with the organization as a farmer, raising crops, bringing on a new generation that is very open to telling the Muslims stories.

"I think what gets me...just the comments.  I hate when ignorant people have hateful comments," said Amani  Abuhanra, an intern assisting WNYMuslims.  "And you can tell that these people have never met Muslims before and have no idea what they are talking about."

Abuhanra lives in Lackawanna's Muslim Community. Ten years after the Lackawanna Six arrests of local Muslim men convicted for training at al Qaeda camp, Abuhanra is trying to live a normal life in this region. 

"You can see more Muslims, regular, not in a negative. Not in the news for something crazy," said Abuhanra.

While interning, Abuhanra is helping to create their video "Spotlight" section on their Website.  It features different Muslims in the community.   

Abuhanra said she believes the older generation of local Muslims had an easier time blending in, and it's more difficult for the younger Muslims to deal with stereotypes.  

"I just know people my age, it's just a dramatic shift.  One minute you're normal. One minute you're just this person who dresses a little bit different. Then next moment you're a Muslim and connected to all this just not nice stereotypes," said Abuhanra.  "So I think it is really hard to grow up and just try to find yourself in America." 

WNYMuslims works to bring important news to our community with "Beyond Boundaries," a weekly internet newscast exploring what is happening across the globe and to human rights.

"We send out press releases.  We to talk about this and mention Muslims are out there.  There are good ones and bad ones and differentiate the mainstream Muslims who are peace loving people who everyone can relate to," said Nicole Mutignani, executive director of  WNYMuslims.   

"We hope that this is a platform not just locally for Western New York, but we hope this branches out.  We think this idea is very unique. Muslims being engaged in the media not something that typically happens," said Mutignani.

Along with the Muslim Spotlight and newscasts, educational videos are also going online to teach the community how Muslims to pray. One of the recent projects included a video about Ramadan.  While it presented the serious side of this religious holiday observed by Muslims, it included some humor.

"Educational and entertaining. So we know in this day and age people don't want to listen to  a ten- minute conversation on what Islam is, what Ramadan is, how do Muslims fast.  So we just created a short, five-minute video," said Mutignani.

WNYMuslims remains supportive to other local Muslim organizations and mosques, working to support their events by promoting and covering them on their website.

"WNYMuslims are really making the effort to kind of reach out to the public. We're here and we want to teach you about who we are instead of just being scared.  We're your neighbor. We're your peer.  We're your colleague.  We're normal people just like you," said Fatima Lodhi, community member.  She helps connect the dots to bridge the gap.

"Sometimes people just don't know, and you really can't blame someone for not knowing something," said Lodhi.  "I'm not going to just build a judgment based on what I don't know." 

Through the digital age of modern technology, WNYMuslims are generating positive views of the Muslim culture and Islam religion as they live, learn, work and play in the Buffalo region.