More than 100 students, employees and local residents came together in the Student Life Center on April 14 for a screening and discussion of the documentary Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think.
The program, cosponsored by Brookdale’s International Education Center, the Global Citizenship Project, Student Life & Activities and the Monmouth Center for World Religions and Ethical Thought (MCWRET), began with a screening of the 2010 film, which reveals the findings of an international Gallup poll involving interviews with tens of thousands of residents in 35 predominantly Muslim nations as well as in the U.S. and Europe.
Focused on issues such as gender justice, terrorism, and democracy, the documentary uses facts, expert interviews and personal testimonials to challenge the notion that Muslims and the west are on a collision course. Inside Islam – along with an accompanying short documentary American Muslims: Facts vs. Fiction – challenges a wide range of commonly held beliefs, including the notion that Muslims are anti-democracy, anti-American and support violent religious extremism.
In fact, according to the documentary, Muslims are far and away the largest victims of terrorism. At the time of the Gallup poll, nearly 90 percent of all global terrorism victims were Muslim. During the same time period, nearly half of all Muslim-American participants in the poll reported experiencing bias, racism and discrimination in the U.S.
“That’s why we are here tonight,” said Janice Thomas, director of the International Education Center. “We are very concerned and quite frankly outraged by the vitriol and the hateful comments and actions we have seen against Muslims in our community. Tonight’s program is about having a conversation, and providing an opportunity to the wider community to learn from one another.”
Following the film, attendees were invited to participate in an interactive discussion hosted by MCWRET board member Joe Ritacco and Mohammad Ali Chaudry, cofounder of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and active member of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Muslim Outreach Committee.
Chaudry, a former New Jersey mayor, participated in a frank Q and A with the audience and provided insight into a variety of global and local issues, including the threat posed by ISIS, the impacts of the Syrian refugee crisis, and effects of anti-Islamic political rhetoric heard at home and abroad over the last year.
He also provided some tips for combating bias at the community level, encouraging all audience members to stand up for what they believe is right.
“I think it’s one thing to say that a politician should stop saying horrible things. But it’s quite another to say, ‘what about me?'” Chaudry said. “When I see it happen, when I hear it happen, what I am doing about it?’ If you hear someone from your own race or faith community say something derogatory about another, say something. Do something about it.”
Ritacco, a Christian and a long-time friend of Chaudry’s, also encouraged the audience to engage in open-minded discussions with people of different faiths and differing opinions in an attempt to learn more about their neighbors and community members.
“And when you start out a question or comment, don’t start with certainty,” Ritacco added. “Don’t say, ‘Muslims are this.’ Start with, ‘I heard,’ or ‘I read,’ or, ‘somebody told me.’ It’s a good way to engage in dialogue on sensitive topics. It’s less threatening to the speaker, and when you hear a response you are more apt to accept it.”
The hosts also encouraged the gathered community members to sign a “Pledge to Stand Up,” joining Chaudry and a growing collective of New Jersey officials, scholars, students and families who are working to end racial and religious bias in the Garden State.
Sean Williams, a Brookdale liberal arts major, said he planned to do just that.
“I thought this was an excellent program,” Williams said. “I think there is a lot of Islamophobia, and it is heightened now considering everything that is going on both globally and politically. I thought it was very relevant to have a program that works to kind of deconstruct the biases that a lot of people have.
“I think one of the most effective ways to combat issues of prejudice and bigotry is putting a face to the people you supposedly hate,” Williams added. “It can change the way people think.”
Click here for more information on the International Education Center.
Check out more photos of the ‘Inside Islam’ program here.