AU’s former Muslim chaplain speaks on fight to end Islamophobia

Imam Adeel J. Zeb lectures on living as a Muslim in modern America

AU’s former Muslim chaplain speaks on fight to end Islamophobia

Imam Zeb, AU’s former Muslim chaplain, spoke on Nov. 2 in the Kay Spiritual Life Center to highlight the discrimination Muslim Americans experience on a daily basis.

Zeb talked about how Muslim Americans must balance their religion with American ideologies at odds with Islam. He also discussed how Islamophobia in America has risen to new heights recently, and how this affects Muslim Americans’ perceptions of themselves and this country.

Zeb was the fifteenth speaker in the annual R. Bruce Poynter Lecture Series, which is put on by the Kay Spiritual Life Center. Zeb has served as an interfaith scholar, a TEDx speaker and is a Certified Muslim Chaplain. He once served as the Muslim chaplain/Imam at AU, and is currently serving as the Co-University Chaplain at The Claremont Colleges.

“This topic is not my favorite topic, because living the Muslim American experience in 2016 is not my favorite experience,” Zeb said.

He went on to say that being a Muslim in America this year has forced him to deal with discrimination brought up by anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media and throughout the presidential election.

Zeb started off his presentation with an image of a father putting his young daughter to sleep. Zeb explained that the picture was from an article in The New York Times. The girl was a young Lebanese-American child who had been having trouble sleeping because she had been suffering nightmares of Donald Trump locking up Muslim families.

“The Islamophobic rhetoric she is being exposed to is affecting her psychology,” Zeb said.

He then proceeded to share stories from his own childhood, and how attending a private Christian school in Dallas forced him to hide the fact that he was Muslim from his peers. Zeb described one boy on his football team who “came out” as Muslim, and was instantly shunned by his teammates. Even one of Zeb’s close childhood friends began to harass him for his religion after the 9/11 attacks.

“After 9/11, we realized that life was going to change,” Zeb said.

The rest of the lecture went deeper into a discussion of today’s struggles between Muslim-Americans and society’s misconceptions of Muslim-Americans, and what outside factors are driving these misconceptions. Zeb noted that Islamophobia in America has always been present, citing a line from the original version of the song “Arabian Nights” from the Disney movie “Aladdin” that said “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face, it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”

He added that although Islamophobia had always existed in American society, it was 9/11 that brought it to the forefront. He also talked about how the media has played a large role in spreading anti-Muslim sentiments, and that certain corporations even give money to media outlets in order to spread information that may not be true but gets reactions from consumers.

Zeb only addressed the 2016 presidential election toward the end of his lecture, saying that in order to make change, the country needs to demand action together. In particular, he questioned the United States’ history of mistreating minorities that still goes on today, such as the conflict surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline and the mass incarceration of African Americans.

“Haven’t we done enough?” he asked. “We practically obliterated American Indians and now we’re trying to exploit them for more money? We’ve incarcerated more African Americans after enslaving them for years. So when I hear, ‘make America great again,’ I have to ask, have we ever been great?”

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