The White Plains Examiner

WCAI Panel Seeks to Dispel Misconceptions About Islam

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Khusro Elley, Treasurer of the Westchester Coalition against Islamophobia and trustee of the Upper Westchester Muslim Society.

By Silas White

With anti-Muslim hostility rising nationally, a group of approximately 100 people gathered on Sunday at the Ethical Culture Society in White Plains to discuss ways to combat and prevent Islamophobia and the hate crimes that come along with it.

The event, organized by the Westchester Coalition Against Islamophobia (WCAI), featured two speakers: Mahjabeen Hassan, MD, chairperson of the American Muslim Women’s Association (AMWA); and Khusro Elley treasurer of the Westchester Coalition against Islamophobia and trustee of the Upper Westchester Muslim Society.

Both speakers used personal anecdotes to educate and inform the public, and dispel myths about Islam.

Hassan spoke about women and Islam, and her own relation to Islam as a Muslim woman.

“What goes through your mind when you see a Muslim woman who has decided to cover her head with a scarf, which is called a hijab?” Hassan asked the audience. “I will try to bring my own stories in here so if you see a Muslim woman covering her hair you realize she is not uneducated, she is not suppressed, she has a mind of her own, and she can talk to you in an intelligent way.”

During Elley’s speech, he addressed media portrayal of Islam as a political institution rather than a religion.

“Islam is an extension of Christianity, as Christianity is an extension of Judaism,” he said. Elley said by portraying Islam as foreign and radical when it is not, “we are setting ourselves up for a clash of civilizations.”

After each speaker’s presentation, the session turned into a Q&A where members of the audience asked Hassan and Elley questions about their faith.

Elley dismissed myths about Jihad and Sharia Law, stating that linguistically Jihad simply means, “struggle” and that it is not a violent concept or a declaration of war against other religions

Elley also responded to an audience question about Sharia Law. “Sharia Law is about…how Muslims should govern themselves,” he said. “Nobody is trying to pass Sharia Law in the United States. Why are people in the United States so concerned? Who’s asking for (Sharia Law) in the U.S.? Certainly not Muslims.”

According to Hassan, meetings like the event held in White Plains are especially important in communities like Westchester.

“We (Muslims) can only reach those that are already open minded,” she said. “But those individuals can reach the close minded.”

WCAI describes itself as a grassroots organization of concerned individuals, of all faiths, committed to opposing bigotry and discrimination. According to President of the WCAI, Charles S. Chesnavage, the WCAI coalesced in 2012 when anti-Muslim ads posted by Pamela Geller of the American Freedom Defense Initiative appeared on Metro North train platforms.

According to the WCAI, Islamophobia has appeared in a variety of forms from stereotyping to discrimination in daily life and harassment in schools, as well as efforts to prevent the establishment of mosques. “History has taught us that none of us is safe when any of us are threatened,” it says on a WCAI information sheet.

The meeting was open to the public, and well attended by local officials such as Carlos Alonzo representing Assemblywoman Shelly Mayer, a representative of the Greenburgh Human Rights Association, and representatives from various other religious or human rights groups in the surrounding area.

WCAI members meet the third Thursday evening of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the Ethical Culture Society of Westchester, and meetings are open to the public.

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