Oklahoma Muslims are sharing glimpses into their lives in a new awareness campaign seeking to raise awareness of American Muslims and their stories.
“That’s what #TheMuslimNextDoor is really all about,” Adam Soltani, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Oklahoma Gazette on Thursday, July 14.
“Hopefully it’s something other states can adopt and use to challenge the growing sentiment of Islamophobia by telling their own stories.”
CAIR-OK recently started a LaunchGood to crowdfund the project titled #TheMuslimNextDoor.
The project aims to share both uniquely American and uniquely Muslim experiences — including those of Edmond North High School junior Mehak Alia; third-grade teacher Nadira Choudry and her husband and Special Care autism program director Mansur Choudry; and “Okie since birth” Mikael Bryant, a third-year law student — via forums, billboards, social media, videos and a photo campaign.
Soltani said the campaign confronts misconceptions, negative stereotypes and fears by presenting Oklahoma Muslims as individuals.
The concept originated outside CAIR-OK and the Muslim community with Arpana Daptilo, who eventually connected with Soltani.
“There was this pretty big political shift in the atmosphere and on social media and in the actual media,” she said.
“A lot of posts I saw were hateful or just fearful of Muslims and brown people in general.”
The campaign has found a lot of LaunchGood support, especially from those outside the Muslim community.
“And I’ve even had people in my life who maybe didn’t know much about Islam or Muslims,” Daptilo said, “and they’ve been approaching me with questions and they’re interested in the campaign, so that’s good.”
The campaign focuses on correcting public perception of the Muslim community, which has always been a concern for the civil rights group.
“When this was presented to me, I said that this is absolutely something that we want to do,” Soltani said.
“So we kind of just tested it out, and it got very popular, so we decided to crowdfund money to help support it.”
By posing familiar faces, the project combats Islamophobia.
“They just fear what they don’t know,” Daptilo said.
Soltani further explained why the campaign is important in Oklahoma.
“The problem is in a place like Oklahoma, where, at best, we make up 1 percent of the state’s population, it’s impossible for Muslims to make enough friends so that everyone knows them,” he said. “Plus, you’ve got all these rural areas in the state that Muslims just may not live in.”
#TheMuslimNextDoor showcases diversity, including medical and legal professionals, families, school teachers, high school and college students, entrepreneurs and local restaurant owners.
“We have a lot of stories to tell, we have a lot of depth to our heritage and we want to be able to share those with people,” Soltani said. “If you’ve seen the photos, you know that Muslim Next Door is all about showing who we really are.”
One photo shows recent University of Oklahoma graduate Bayan Abdallat wearing an OKC Thunder jersey and spinning a basketball on her finger.
“That’s actually one of my favorite photos,” Soltani said.
“It just shows that one thing we can all agree upon is that we all love the Thunder. … If we come to agreements on these things, then we can see that we have more in common than we do different. There’s something special about Oklahoma, I think in particular. Once you live in Oklahoma, even if you move away, there’s something that always draws you back.”
#TheMuslimNextDoor crowdfunding campaign will help continue spreading awareness and facilitate event programming.
A website is in the works, too, and will showcase photo galleries, blogs and videos.
“I’m mostly excited about the video series,” Soltani said.
“They’re intentionally going to be short so that people can view them on social media, on YouTube, and better know their Muslim neighbors.
The final component of the campaign will be to hold public forums and foster opportunities for people to “meet their Muslim neighbors in person,” Soltani said.
Daptilo will also edit blog posts and potentially interviewing Muslim community members.
“We’re going to have an interview blog with different Muslims, different walks of life, just to give people an insight into the people behind the pictures,” she said.