From the Albany Hearst Times Union, May 8, 2016
Get your Muslim info here
Goal of “Ask A Muslim” booth is to end negative stereotypes
By Lindsay Ellis
|Michael P. Farrell / Times Union Lynne Jackson, left, and Fazana Saleem-Ismail work the Ask A Muslim booth Saturday at the 2016 Tulip Festival in Washington Park in Albany.
Beyond the pop-up stands peddling maple cotton candy, fudge and balsamic vinegar, two women offered Tulip Festival attendees the opportunity to ask any question to a Muslim —along with free lemonade and Snickerdoodle cookies.
Saturday morning, Fazana Saleem-Ismail, a43-year-old research scientist from Guilderland, greeted passers-by with warm hellos, standing behind a felt banner with stitched block letters reading “Ask A Muslim.”
Saleem-Ismail and Lynne Jackson, 61, of Albany, said Saturday that the decision to set up their table was driven by loud calls by presumptive presidential Republican nominee Donald Trump to block all Muslims from entering the U.S. They spoke Saturday of the pervasive, harmful image linking all Muslims to terrorist groups like the Islamic State.
A face-to-face, friendly conversation can ease tensions and change minds, Saleem-Ismail said. “If you know a Muslim,” she said, “your perception won’t be clouded.”
Saleem-Ismail said she has appeared at churches and Girl Scout troop meetings to make presentations about the faith and answer questions. Eight volunteers were scheduled to staff the table at Tulip Fest on Saturday, taking shifts of several hours to offer a snack and conversation near the Washington Park playground.
One woman stopped at the table just before the Tulip Queen was crowned. Of a possible Trump presidency, she said, “Canada is looking very good.”
Saleem-Ismail replied, “In some ways, he’s the reason we’re doing this.”
Jackson, a self-employed computer consultant who is Unitarian Universalist, said the Capital District Coalition Against Islamophobia launched late last year as rhetoric against Muslims heightened on the national stage.
By December, after the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
“When you have a presidential candidate openly speaking like this,” Saleem-Ismail said, “it gives the everyday person license to do that as well.”
Both Saleem-Ismail and Jackson said they believed Islamophobia is not common in the Capital Region, and they noted that Albany County Legislature, the Albany Common Council and the Schenectady City Council passed resolutions against Islamophobia earlier this year.
Jackson said distinguishing Muslims as “other,” or outside the norm, is damaging. “They’re people,” she said. “We’re all people.”
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A face-to-face, friendly conversation can ease tensions and change minds.