“So what did you think upon seeing me? ‘Oh, it’s not Halloween anymore’? or ‘Who invited Al-Qaeda’?”
Along with some laughter and shaking heads, that’s how Zohra Sarwari started off her event on March 11 in the McIntosh Ballroom. She had first asked every participant to look to the people around them and then form a judgment. By opening with humor and this activity, Sarwari was hoping to make her topic more relatable to the audience.
“It’s so easy for us to pass a judgment on someone we don’t even know,” she said. “We do it all the time. But that doesn’t mean it’s right.”
Sarwari is an international speaker, entrepreneur, author, mother and Orthodox Muslim. She has grown up in the U.S. from the age of 6, and says she has faced and continues facing many challenges because of her religion.
Omega Hollies, International Services Coordinator and event organizer, said she had originally been looking for a way to turn the North Carolina shooting into a learning opportunity. Sarwari’s image and topic “No, I’m Not a Terrorist” is what really “jumped out” at her.
Sarwari mentioned one statistic during her lecture that states 60 percent of Americans currently do not have a favorable view of Muslims or Islam. She said that is what inspired her to start speaking—to share her knowledge, foster dialogue, and show people the real face of who Muslims are.
“You can still be [an] orthodox [Muslim] and live in peace and harmony; [still] love your neighbor,” she said.
So what does Islam really say? Where does terrorism come from? What’s the difference between religious and cultural practices? These are all areas she addressed, since so many people have preconceived judgments and misconceptions in regards to these topics.
Sarwari said the biggest reason for these misunderstandings is people who spread their biased and unfounded judgments, rather than the facts. This is especially true in the media, where many people are uneducated in what they’re talking about. Oftentimes these same people don’t let Muslims come on and express the reality of their situations.
She clarified that a Muslim is simply someone who submits him or herself to God. Terrorism is committing an act of terror. Just like how the government treated the Native Americans, the whites treated the blacks, and the Nazis treated the Jews. These are all acts of terrorism. Using “terrorism” as a synonym for the Islamic religion is therefore unjustified, she said.
“When the Ku Klux Klan puts a cross on a black person’s house, it doesn’t represent Christianity. So, it’s the same way for us. What ISIS does doesn’t represent Islam, you know? You have to know the difference between it. Christians don’t have to go out and explain that, we just have common sense, and I want that same thing.”
Sarwari told the audience of a recent incident where she and her family had been victims of a hate crime. At their home in California, she said people had first left garbage at their door, then undergarments, and then a letter filled with language attacking her and her children that she said she was “too embarrassed” to share.
However, she does not let this faze her. She said that in life people will be spit on and crushed, but they’ll never lose their value, and that everyone should remember that.
Amazed with the over 150 students and community members who came out to support and learn from the program, Multicultural Services felt Sarwari’s creative yet professional approach really helped drive home her points.
“I thought it was fantastic. She was straightforward and honest. But she was also funny, without taking away from the severity of some of the issues that are facing a lot of students, and family members, and community members that are confronted with these sorts of misconceptions, and myths, and questions about who they are as individuals,” said Hollies.