“Hello, brother.” Those were the words that a Muslim man said to a gunman before he was shot to death at the Al Noor mosque in New Zealand on Friday.
The gunman, an avowed white supremacist, went on to kill at least 49 others in a horrific attack on two mosques in the city of Christchurch during Friday prayers, a weekly tradition for those who practice Islam.
While the attack on Muslims may have been an unprecedented show of hate for New Zealand, the gunman’s Islamophobia is hauntingly familiar in the U.S.
In December, a woman in Dallas attacked a Muslim woman and told her to “go back to [her] country.” A month later, four people in upstate New York were charged with plotting to attack a Muslim community with explosives. Last April, three white militiamen in Kansas were charged with planning to bomb a Somali community’s apartment building.
That’s why now is as important as ever for people of all faiths to speak out against hate and violence against Muslims, according to Catherine Osborne. Osborne is a Christian and the campaign director for Shoulder to Shoulder, an interfaith coalition against Islamophobia in the U.S.
“Silence is action, in and of itself,” Osborne said of the response to Friday’s massacre in New Zealand. “Choosing not to speak out is an action that somebody is choosing to take.”
If you want to be an ally to the Muslim community, here’s what you can do now to fight against Islamophobia in the U.S., no matter what your faith is.
1. Ask your local Muslim community how you can help.
Right now is an especially sensitive time for members of the American Muslim community. Simran Jeet Singh, a Sikh activist and religion professor, says it’s also the best time for people to step up and ask their local Muslim community what they can do to help.
“The most important thing is to listen to the communities you’re serving to understand what they need,” Singh, who has led advocacy efforts for Muslims in the past, told HuffPost. “Don’t be afraid to ask what would be most helpful ― chances are that they’ll appreciate it.”
Local mosques and Islamic community centers are good places to seek out community leaders who can point you in the right direction.
2. Forget the age-old taboo and talk openly about religion, especially with Muslims.
One of the best ways to fight against Islamophobia is to talk to Muslims about religion respectfully and share your own faith, too.
“Muslims love to talk about religion,” said Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“In our general society [in the U.S.], you’re often told don’t talk about politics or religion, but Muslims like to talk about religion,” Hooper added. “Muslims are not offended by sincere questions, even if the question is based on misinformation, as long as there is sincerity behind it. People are more than willing to dispel misinformation.”
Sheryl Olitzky, executive director of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom said that honest discussions about religions, including their differences and similarities, strengthen interfaith relationships. The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is an organization that focuses on strengthening the relationship between Jewish and Muslim women and shattering anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim prejudices.
“One of the easiest things that we can do as members of the Jewish and Muslim community is to go into the other faith groups. To go into [Christian] churches and say, ‘You know what, we just want to break bread together,’” Olitzky told HuffPost. “Let’s talk about why we’re here. Let’s talk about the hate that surrounds us. Let’s talk about the challenges we face.”
3. Call out news organizations on discriminatory coverage and bias.
According to research by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, more than 80 percent of television media coverage of Muslims and Islam in the U.S. is negative. Their research also shows that Muslims suspected of attempting violence receive 7 and a half times more coverage from major media outlets than suspects who are not Muslim.
“If folks aren’t aware of these biases, they are bound to believe that most terrorists are Muslim when in fact right wing and white supremacists extremists kill more Americans than any other group,” said Dalia Mogahed, research director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
Osborne also highlighted the importance of holding news organizations accountable when their coverage disproportionately focuses on Muslim violence, inaccurately depicting Islam as a violent religion.
People need to “call on media [organizations] to cover things properly and not be bigoted or discriminatory on how they’re covering the news,” Obsorne told HuffPost. Unfair coverage “feeds into these ideologies of hate [against Muslims]. It feeds that beast.”
4. Be friends with the Muslims in your community.
“Make Muslim friends,” said Mogahed, who is Muslim.
“Research shows that folks who know a Muslim are far more likely than those who do not to have positive views towards the group,” she added.
There are easy ways to create friendships with the Muslim community, according to Hooper. He advises people from any background to visit a mosque on “open mosque days,” when the community invites the public to learn more about Islam.
People can also “invite their Muslim neighbors in for tea or for lunch. Offer to drive their kids to the soccer game,” he added.
But Hooper says that outreach should go both ways.
“It’s important for the Muslim community to [also] reach across religious and ethnic lines,” Hooper said. ”When people know each other on an individual basis, it’s very hard to maintain that [hate]. The small personal interactions make a difference.”
5. Demand respect and protection for Muslims from politicians.
When top leaders in America spew anti-Muslim sentiment and promote Islamophobic legislation, it encourages even more hate in the U.S. which could lead to violence.
Osborne said voters need to fight back against legislation that discriminates against Muslims, “the most glaring one is the Muslim ban.” Trump’s executive order, signed in 2017, currently bars citizens from seven Muslim majority countries, including Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya, from entering the U.S.
“We know that political rhetoric from the very top and from local elected officials has a really big impact,” Osborne said.
“I can pray and hope to change the minds of somebody who is harboring hate [for Muslims] but the reality is if there are media and political platforms that are ... putting a stamp of approval on the hate that they’re holding in their heart, then that’s much more likely to turn into violence,” she added.
6. Encourage Muslim individuals to report hate crimes, and help them do it.
Olitzky suggested supporting your Muslim friends when they experience a bigoted attack by encouraging them to report it to law enforcement so that community leaders are aware about what’s going on.
Hate crimes are “an underreported issue,” Olitzky said. “If something happens to a [Muslim individual], they need to report it. Help them report it.”
7. Take white nationalism seriously.
Many leaders in the U.S. don’t see white supremacy or white nationalism as a serious problem in the country, despite the increase in violent white supremacy rallies and hate crimes.
While taking questions about the New Zealand mosque shooting, President Donald Trump on Friday said that he didn’t “really see” white nationalism as a growing problem and dismissed white nationalists as “a small group of people.” And according to the Daily Beast, fewer than one-fifth of the FBI’s open terrorism investigations target white supremacists.
But the rise in white supremacist views is very real. The gunman involved in the mosque shooting on Friday appeared in court and flashed a hand sign that is linked to white supremacist views.
Singh said it’s important for people to understand how deeply embedded white supremacy is in the U.S. and how it’s influencing others.
“People of faith often dismiss white nationalism and anti-Muslim hate as outcomes of ignorance or stupidity,” Singh told HuffPost. “One thing we have to do as a society is really commit to understanding how insidious and pervasive white nationalism is.”
8. Donate to the New Zealand mosque victims and other Muslim advocacy organizations.
If you don’t have much free time, the quickest way to help fight Islamophobia is to donate money to the victims of the Christchurch mass shootings or other organizations that fight against anti-Muslim sentiment.
9. Refuse to stay silent on hate.
There was one resounding message that all of the Muslim activists and advocates that HuffPost talked to suggested for combatting Islamophobia: Don’t be silent.
Osborne said that many instances of mass violence have happened because the population did not speak out against leaders with hateful and discriminatory messages.
She pointed to historical tragedies like the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide, “where rhetoric went unchallenged.”
“Policies went unchallenged because they seemed benign or they seemed too political to get involved,” she added. “You can look at other situations where things have escalated to the point of mass violence. ... We see patterns of people using their platforms irresponsibly but we also see what silence did.”
Mogahed encouraged people to continue working to build a society where white supremacist views will not be able to survive.
“Work for a society where bigotry lacks oxygen,” she told HuffPost. “Islamophobia is linked to other types of bigotry including anti-Semitism, anti-Black racism and homophobia. Work for a world where none of these has any room to thrive.”