After being recommended in articles in Buzzfeed, Jezebel, and the New York Times as a Muslim advocacy organization that can use public support, we at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have received a flood of emails and phone calls from people who want to help the Muslim community during these challenging times. In the midst of so much caustic rhetoric and, frankly, depressing news on a daily basis, it’s been a source of humility and joy for all of us who work on these issues to see people from all backgrounds – Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and people of no faith but strong convictions – lining up to support communities in need.
However, trying to take full advantage of this outpouring has been like trying to drink from a fire hose: in the midst of responding to the massive surge in anti-Muslim hate crimes, conducting media interviews, leading talks and workshops in mosques about how to respond to acts of vandalism or violence, and doing outreach to interfaith and ally leaders, we’re left with little time to reach out and organize individual volunteers.
So below are a few tangible, concrete steps that those who want to support their Muslim neighbors can take, today, to have an impact. Each one has the potential to help shift the balance from hatred toward unity in our deeply divided cultural and political landscape.
- Keep abreast of developments impacting the American Muslim community in real time by subscribing to CAIR’s listserv, liking us on Facebook, and following us on Twitter, and encourage your family and friends to do so as well. Historically, marginalized communities have been most effective at advocacy and resisting discrimination when they have been able to mobilize and coordinate large numbers of supporters quickly.
- Ask people in your networks with specialized skillsets if they would be willing to volunteer their time or services. For example, CAIR chapters across the country are actively looking for people with skills in website development, organizational or fundraising consulting, grant writing, business consulting, or accounting. And we are always looking for attorneys who would be willing to take on pro bono cases of discrimination.
- Write an op-ed in your local paper describing your feelings during this time, and sharing your thoughts on how we can build a better and more tolerant future for our country together moving forward. It’s important that large numbers of people express themselves in public forums to show their Muslim neighbors that they are not alone.
- Get in touch with your local CAIR chapter to learn about local opportunities for support; here’s a full directory.
- Educate yourself about Islamophobia in the United States. Animosity against American Muslims is not accidental, but the result of a sustained, well-financed campaign by a core group of anti-Muslim activists who are likely going to become more empowered and influential in the coming months and years. You can read the full report on the organizations and individuals responsible for generating this bias here and also see a visualized representation here. Additionally, begin to question sources and look closely at outlets alleging anti-Muslim conspiracy theories or promoting broad-stroke sentiments against Islam. These are commonly deployed rhetorical tactics designed to marginalize and incite fear against the American Muslim community, and to alienate and raise suspicion among allies. You’re best equipped to discern fact from fiction about American Muslims, and to dispel these rumors among your friends and family, by reading about and becoming aware of these issues.
- If you belong to a religious organization, ask the leadership if they would be willing to host a speaker on Islam at your house of worship. Many mosques have outreach programs for their local communities, and larger organizations are always looking for sympathetic coalition partners.
- If you personally witness a hate crime taking place, intervene to the greatest extent safely possible. Recently in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a Sikh man was verbally assaulted after being mistaken for a Muslim, while passersby simply watched. He writes movingly about the experience, and offers suggestions to others for responding, here.
- Finally, consider making a direct donation to support CAIR’s work. A large chunk of professional advocates’ time is devoted to fundraising, and the more that this work is taken care of, the more we can focus on the many other urgent tasks at hand. Additionally, here’s a secret from the fundraising world: one-time donations are great, but what’s truly valued are regular, monthly pledges. Even something as small as $20 a month, compounded over time, can make a major difference. Or, you can pledge to raise $1,000 among friends and family before the end of the year.
It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of violent acts against the Muslim community, and at the prospect of institutional and systemic discrimination. Taking some or all of these steps allows you to have a real-world, positive impact on these issues and for their advocates.