RESHAPING ISLAM IN AMERICA

For the past year PBS has been asking people across the country to share stories about their lives to catch a glimpse of what it really means to be an American today. Thousands responded and with their personal tales a collective canvas of the American Portrait came to life. Tonight, in the 2nd installment of our special 3-part series produced in conjunction with PBS’ American Portrait project, Metrofocus shares the narrative of Islam, thanks in part to the Muslim Community Network whose Executive Director Aniqa Nawabi joins us tonight.

For more information on PBS American Portrait, click here.

Aired on January 12, 2021.

TRANSCRIPT

> FOR THE PAST YEAR PBS HAS BEEN ASKING PEOPLE ACROSS THE COUNTRY TO SHARE STORIES ABOUT THEIR LIVES, TO GET A PICTURE OF WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO BE AN AMERICAN TODAY.

THOUSANDS OF STORIES HAVE COME IN AND GIVEN LIFE TO 'PBS AMERICAN PORTRAIT.'

THE CROWD-SOURCED STORY TELLING PROJECT WE'VE BEEN TELLING YOU ABOUT RECENTLY, FEATURING VIDEOS SHOT BY VIEWERS LIKE YOU, THE PROJECT IS NOW A FOUR-PART DOCUMENTARY SERIES FOCUSING ON EVERYTHING FROM THE WORK WE DO FOR A LIVING TO TRADITIONS AND VALUES WE HOLD AND WHAT IS BEING DONE TO CREATE AN ANTI-RACIST AMERICA.

NEW YORKERS ARE SHARING THEIR STORIES, TOO.

THANKS IN PART TO SEVERAL COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS THAT HAVE PITCHED IN AND HELPED US HERE AT 'METROFOCUS' AND THE WNET GROUP GATHER VIDEO SUBMISSIONS.

IN JUST A MOMENT WE'LL INTRODUCE YOU TO ONE OF THOSE ORGANIZATIONS, THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY NETWORK, WHICH IS WORKING TO SHAPE THE PUBLIC NARRATIVE ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A MUSLIM IN THE U.S. TODAY.

BUT FIRST, HERE IS A LOOK AT SOME OF THOSE SUBMISSIONS.

> WHEN I STEP OUTSIDE MY DOOR AND WALK A COUPLE OF BLOCKS IN QUEENS, NEW YORK, I SEE STORIES.

HOLA.

I COME FROM NEPAL.

FROM INDIA.

HI, I'M ELVIS FROM ECUADOR.

ALL RIGHT, GUYS.

I WAS RAISED TO BELIEVE THAT EVERY LITTLE BLACK GIRL AND EVERY LITTLE MUSLIM GIRL IS POWERFUL.

THE TRADITION THAT I CARRY ON IS BEING RESPONSIBLE, BEING A PROVIDER, AND ALSO BEING A KIND PERSON.

AT THIS POINT IN MY LIFE I HAVE REALIZED SELF-CARE IS SO IMPORTANT.

I WAS RAISED TO BELIEVE IN OUR FUTURE LEADERS, FUTURE SCIENTISTS, DOCTORS, TEACHERS, LAWYERS.

I WAS RAISED TO BELIEVE IN YOU AND ME, IN EVERYONE.

NOW IS THE TIME TO BE ASKING YOURSELF, WHAT CAN I DO.

♪ ♪

> JOINING US NOW AS PART OF OUR ONGOING PBS 'AMERICAN PORTRAIT' COVERAGE IS THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY NETWORK EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ANIKA NUWABI.

WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

THANK YOU SO MUCH, JENNA.

REALLY GLAD TO BE HERE.

SO VERY QUICKLY FOR ANYBODY WHO MIGHT NOT BE SURE ABOUT WHAT EXACTLY YOUR ORGANIZATION'S PURPOSE IS, ITS MISSION, WHAT IT DOES, JUST TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY NETWORK.

OF COURSE.

SO MCN, MUSLIM COMMUNITY NETWORK, WE ARE A NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION THAT'S WORKING IN THE AREA OF DEVELOPING THE CIVIC LEADERSHIP OF MUSLIM-AMERICANS.

WE FOCUS SPECIFICALLY ON YOUTH, AND WE WANT TO EDUCATE THE LARGER AMERICAN, YOU KNOW, COMMUNITY WHO WE ARE AS MUSLIMS.

BECAUSE ONCE WE ARE ABLE TO DEFINE OUR CIVIC ROLE IN THIS NATION, WE ARE ABLE TO HELP SHAPE THE NARRATIVE, WHICH FOR SO LONG HAS BEEN ALMOST HIGHJACKED BY, YOU KNOW, LIKE THE MEDIA AND POLITICS ABOUT WHO WE ARE AS A COMMUNITY.

HENCE, WE AS MCN, WE WANT TO BE ABLE TO OWN THIS NARRATIVE AND TELL OUR SIDE OF THE STORY, OF WHO WE ARE AS MUSLIMS, WHICH IS A VERY DIVERSE COMMUNITY, WITH DIVERSE OPINIONS, WITH DIVERSE LEVELS OF, YOU KNOW, CIVIC EDUCATION AND SO FORTH.

SO OUR ORGANIZATION, WE LIKE TO TEACH OUR COMMUNITY ABOUT THE AMERICAN NARRATIVE AS WELL AS OUR ROLE IN THIS SOCIETY AND HOW WE HAVE TO HELP DEFINE THIS NARRATIVE IN THE COUNTRY.

OF COURSE.

AND I AM SURE IT IS NOT AN ACCIDENT THAT YOU SPECIFICALLY CHOSE TO USE THE WORD 'HIGHJACK,' BUT WE WILL COME BACK TO THAT IN A MOMENT.

BUT JUST TO FOCUS ON THE DIVERSITY OF THE MUSLIM DIASPORA, IF YOU WILL, I UNDERSTAND YOU ARE A QUEENS RESIDENT, AT LEAST ARE FROM QUEENS, WHICH IS KNOWN TO BE ONE OF THE MOST DIVERSE NEIGHBORHOODS IN THE COUNTRY.

LIKE SO MANY PEOPLE IN QUEENS, PART OF WHAT MAKES IT SO DIVERSE IS THAT IT HAS A LARGE IMMIGRANT COMMUNITY.

I UNDERSTAND YOU WERE -- YOU ARE AN IMMIGRANT YOURSELF, COMING FROM BANGLADESH.

I AM WONDERING, WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO GROW UP AS A MUSLIM YOUTH IN QUEENS?

WELL, A GREAT QUESTION.

SO, YES, I WAS AN IMMIGRANT.

I MOVED TO QUEENS, AND QUEENS HAS BEEN MY HOME FOR THE PAST 20 YEARS ALMOST.

YOU KNOW, I CAME HERE AT 13, AND WHAT I SAW WAS ESSENTIALLY THE INCREDIBLE DIVERSITY OF THE BOROUGH.

IT WAS MY FIRST TIME THAT I ACTUALLY EVEN, LIKE, MET A GUYANESE MUSLIM.

I HAD NEVER MET SOMEONE FROM THE COUNTRY OF GUYANA BEFORE.

ESSENTIALLY WHAT IT SHOWED WAS THAT THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY HERE IN NEW YORK CITY, THE MOST GLOBAL CITY IN THE WORLD, AND, QUEENS, THE MOST DIVERSE BOROUGH, IT SHOWED HOW, YOU KNOW, THERE'S SUCH A MULTITUDE OF CULTURES THAT PEOPLE BRING TO THEIR FAITH, THE MUSLIM FAITH.

THAT'S WHAT KIND OF ALWAYS DREW MY EXPERIENCE IN WANTING TO DRAW ALL OF THESE MULTITUDE OF STORIES TOGETHER AND BE ABLE TO TELL A UNIFIED STORY OF HOW BEAUTIFUL WE ARE AS A COMMUNITY, YOU KNOW, WITH OUR DIVERSITY.

WE ARE NOT JUST ALL ARABS, YOU KNOW.

WE ARE SOUTH ASIAN, WE ARE EUROPEAN, WE ARE SOUTH AMERICAN, YOU KNOW, WE ARE AFRICAN, AND SO THE OPPORTUNITY TO SERVE AT MCN HAS REALLY ALLOWED ME TO PRODUCE A VISION WHERE I CAN KIND OF TIE IN ALL OF THESE DIFFERENT STORIES TOGETHER.

AND, AGAIN, IT IS TO DEVELOP OUR LEADERSHIP AS MUSLIM-AMERICANS, YOU KNOW, SO THAT WE CAN TELL OUR STORIES AS WELL.

YOU KNOW, THERE ARE LANGUAGE BARRIERS, THERE ARE ECONOMIC BARRIERS THAT WE ALL FACE, BUT AS AN INSTITUTION OUR ROLE IS TO HELP OVERCOME A LOT OF THESE BARRIERS BY THE MULTITUDE OF SERVICES THAT WE PRODUCE, AND AT THE END OF THE DAY BE ABLE TO, AGAIN, PROFESS OUR STORIES IN AVENUES LIKE THE MEDIA, IN PUBLIC OFFICES, IN SCHOOLS, YOU KNOW, IN PRIVATE OFFICES AS WELL, SO THAT WE ARE A PROUD COMMUNITY OF MUSLIM NEW YORKERS, YOU KNOW.

WELL, YOU SPOKE A LITTLE BIT ABOUT -- FIRST OF ALL, YOU SPOKE VERY BROADLY ABOUT, OF COURSE, WHO MAKES UP THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY AND THAT IT IS SO VARIED AND DIVERSE, BUT I AM WONDERING WHAT SPECIFICALLY IS IT THAT THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY NETWORK IS DOING FOR THE NON-MUSLIM POPULATION SO THAT YOU CAN RECLAIM THE NARRATIVE, THAT -- USING THE WORD THAT YOU USED EARLIER WAS HIGHJACKED FROM YOU?

HOW DO YOU GET THE REST OF NEW YORK AND, I GUESS, AMERICA TO UNDERSTAND AND PERHAPS, YOU KNOW, BETTER SEE OTHER MUSLIMS AS JUST OTHER AMERICANS?

ABSOLUTELY.

THIS IS A HUGE PART OF OUR WORK.

IT IS TO FOCUS ON THE NON-MUSLIM COMMUNITY, AND THE WAY WE DO THIS IS THROUGH THESE, WE HAVE A COMMUNITY EDUCATION PROGRAM WHERE WE GO INTO SCHOOLS AND WE PRESENT ABOUT MUSLIMS.

INSTEAD OF HAVING THE TEACHERS PRESENT ON MUSLIMS, WE HAVE MUSLIMS BEING ABLE TO TEACH A CLASS ON MUSLIM HISTORY AND ISLAMIC HISTORY, WHICH STARTS FROM A VANTAGE POINT OF REALLY, YOU KNOW, A LARGE CIVILIZATION THAT STARTED AND EXPANDED GLOBALLY IN MANY WAYS.

SO IT DOESN'T START FROM THE VANTAGE POINT OF 9/11, LET'S SAY.

IT STARTS FROM THE VANTAGE POINT OF THE CONTRIBUTION THAT MUSLIMS AND ISLAM HAS MADE ON THE WORLD.

SO DIVERSITY AT EDUCATION IS ONE OF OUR MOST IMPACTFUL PROGRAMS, AND WE'VE HAD REQUESTS FROM HOSPITALS RECENTLY BECAUSE THEY WANT TO UNDERSTAND MUSLIM PATIENTS BETTER.

WE HAVE PRESENTED IN PUBLIC OFFICES AS WELL AS PRIVATE OFFICES, AND REALLY THE SCHOOLS BECAUSE THIS IS WHERE STUDENTS AND YOUNG PEOPLE GET TO FIRST LEARN ABOUT MUSLIMS.

SO THAT'S A LARGE PART OF OUR WORK.

THE SECOND PART IS A VERY PRACTICAL ASPECT OF OUR WORK, WHICH IS TO COMMUNITY SERVICE.

WE RUN AN INTERSTATE SOUP KITCHEN AT THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY TRINITY EVERY MONTH.

WE DO A NUMBER OF VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES.

WE ENGAGE MUSLIM VOLUNTEERS TO ESSENTIALLY PHYSICALLY SHOW THAT MUSLIMS ARE REGULAR NEIGHBORS AND REGULAR AMERICANS WHO WANT TO DO GOOD FOR THEIR SOCIETY.

SO THOSE ARE THE COMMUNITY EDUCATION PART AND COMMUNITY SERVICE PART AS WELL AS ONE THING THAT I FORGOT TO MENTION IS THROUGH BUILDING INTER-FAITH PARTNERSHIPS AND FRIEND SHIPS.

WE ENGAGE WITH THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY, THE JEWISH COMMUNITY, THE HINDU COMMUNITY, ALL OF THE DIFFERENT RELIGIOUS GROUPS TO SHOW, AGAIN, WE ARE ONE OF THE FEW MUSLIM ORGANIZATIONS WHO ARE ENGAGING IN INTERFAITH WORK.

IT IS VERY CRITICAL TO OUR WORK TO SHOW THAT WE WANT TO BUILD BRIDGES, WE WANT TO BUILD FRIENDSHIPS, AND BECAUSE ONLY THROUGH THAT ARE WE ABLE TO DEVISE A SOCIETY THAT HAS SOCIAL HARMONY.

IT BREAKS DOWN THE BARRIERS OF RACE, OF CULTURE, AND REALLY UNITES US AS HUMAN BEINGS WHO BELIEVE, WHO ARE FAITH COMMUNITIES AND WHO BELIEVE IN REALLY A UNIFIED HUMAN RACE, RIGHT.

SO INTERFAITH BRIDGE BUILDING, COMMUNITY ED AND COMMUNITY SERVICE ARE WAYS THAT WE SERVE THAT PURPOSE.

OKAY.

WELL, NO, I THINK THAT'S INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT FOR PEOPLE TO ALSO UNDERSTAND.

I DO WANT TO ALSO JUST GET A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF, IS THIS SOMETHING THAT YOU SEE AS LONG TERM, ONGOING WORK THAT JUST GOES ON AND ON AND ON, OR PERHAPS IS THIS SOMETHING THAT YOU MIGHT SEE AS HAVING AN END POINT, THAT THERE ISN'T NECESSARILY SUCH A NEED TO PRESENT THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY AS JUST NORMAL PEOPLE?

RIGHT.

WELL, I THINK AS LONG AS WE SEE IN THE LARGER -- LIKE, YOU KNOW, AS LONG AS WE SEE LIKE TARGETED, YOU KNOW, POLICIES AGAINST A COMMUNITY LIKE THE MUSLIM TRAVEL BAN HAPPENING OR TARGETED, YOU KNOW, MEDIA ATTENTION THAT MUSLIMS ARE ONLY PORTRAYED AS TERRORISTS OR AS SOME, YOU KNOW, VIOLENT ENTITY, AS LONG AS THOSE CONDITIONS ARE EXISTING, OUR WORK IS GOING TO CONTINUE AND OUR ADVOCACY WILL CONTINUE.

YOU KNOW, IT IS BEYOND JUST THE MEDIA PORTRAYAL OF MUSLIMS, BUT I THINK IN THE LAST FOUR YEARS OR SO WE'VE SEEN AN INCREASED NUMBER OF ATTACKS ON THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY AND FAITH COMMUNITIES, THE MUSLIM AND THE JEWISH COMMUNITIES BOTH HAVE BEEN TARGETED.

SO AS LONG AS THESE, YOU KNOW, GENERALIZATIONS ARE CONTINUED TO BE MADE BY THE MAINSTREAM, WHETHER IT IS POLITICIANS OR THE MEDIA, WE HAVE WORK TO DO THERE.

UH-HUH.

YOU KNOW, WE HAVE WORK TO EDUCATE, WHETHER THEY'RE POLICYMAKERS, THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE, AND THERE ARE A LOT OF STILL COMMUNITIES WHO HAVE ACTUALLY NO IDEA WHO MUSLIMS ARE.

A RECENT POLL IN 2015 SHOWED THAT 58% OF AMERICANS HAVE NEVER INTERACTED WITH MUSLIM-AMERICANS BEFORE.

WELL, ACTUALLY SPEAKING OF THAT -- SORRY, WE ARE COMING UP SO CLOSE ON THE END OF OUR TIME, BUT FOR ANYONE WHO MIGHT BE SEEING THIS WHO MIGHT WANT TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY AND PERHAPS IF THERE'S A WAY THAT THEY CAN GET INVOLVED, WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST?

WELL, I WOULD SUGGEST REALLY GO VISIT OUR WEBSITE, WWW.MCNNY.org.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWS LETTERS.

WE ALSO -- WE ARE ACTUALLY CONTINUING OUR FOOD DISTRIBUTION EVENTS THROUGHOUT THIS WHOLE COVID PERIOD BECAUSE OUR COMMUNITY IS IN SUCH A STATE OF FOOD INSECURITY.

VOLUNTEER WITH US.

GET TO KNOW US BETTER.

YOU CAN REQUEST DIVERSITY EDUCATION TRAINING IF YOU ARE IN THE EDUCATION SECTOR, AND WE CAN, YOU KNOW, START A CONVERSATION THAT WAY AND ENGAGE.

WELL, OF COURSE.

STARTING A CONVERSATION IS ALWAYS SO IMPORTANT.

ANIKA NUWABI, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US AND SHARING ABOUT THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY NETWORK AND THE WORK THAT YOU DO.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING ME.

♪ ♪

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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