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Speaking at Palm Beach State College on ‘Muslims in the Media,’ the outstanding students made it a great day

October 6th · 8 Comments · Islam, Media, Muslim

Sharing thoughts on "Muslims in the Media: Separating Fact from Fiction," Tuesday with the capacity crowd in Meldon Hall on the Eissey Campus of Palm Beach State College.

Once again it was the kids — this time Palm Beach State College students — who reminded me why I’m hopelessly optimistic about the possibilities for humanity.

For example I so appreciated the young man who, as we approached the two-hour point in the scheduled hour-and- a half program, stood in the question-and-answer line to comment:

“I want to start off by saying I came here today because I was supposed to be here for class. But — I learned a lot…Before I came here, I thought that in the media, that’s what I saw as Muslim…I learned more about the Muslim religion today than ever before.”

Even more gratifying were the thoughts of a young woman who has served in Iraq. Regarding the healing mission of the proposed Islamic cultural center in Manhattan, she said:

“I agree with you totally: Why not? If they had mosques already there, before it went down, then why can’t you put it there again?…America is a place where everybody can be whoever you are, and you can have your religion, your beliefs, your faith, whatever you want. Why is it so much trouble to educate everybody, to let them know that, ‘Even though you think one thing, there are other things out there that are good for those people too.’ I don’t understand how are you supposed to educate people, and to stop the hatred toward other people, if you are not allowed to?”

A lady deserving our salute.

I responded that my thought is it’s an education process, and we just have to keep working at it. Later as we shared a few words (and I gave her a salute) she added: “I think the problem is with the people, not with the religions.”

Still, as usually is my experience in these dialogues, a minuscule few looked past all the good unifying  information that was presented, from varied perspectives besides my own, and focused on what they fear.

One Egyptian-born elder said he had studied the Quran in Arabic for nearly decade. Yet unlike Chiara Lubich, the blessed Christian lady who moments earlier had appeared on a video screen in excerpts of her historic 1997 address at the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque, he seemed to have gleaned little of the spirit of the book.

Another lady seemed worried about sharia law becoming American law. I didn’t get the impression that she was interested in my recommendation of the definitive recent commentary on the subject, by Sumbul Ali-Karamali. But I hope she takes time to read it so that — borrowing a line from a former U.S. first lady — she can be informed, rather than just rhetorical. As Ali-Karamali writes: “If you read the anti-Islam fear-mongering websites, all you’ll learn will be tall tales.”

If there was something that disturbed me, it was the Muslim student who said she was tired of having to defend herself. In fact the Muslim students I met, from Bengladesh, Ethiopia and elsewhere, were a joy. For their being on the defensive — something that I as a Muslim American refuse to accept — our news organizations’ lazy, religious-profiling approach is complicit.

Generally, it was the overwhelmingly positive comments of the young and younger adults in the room that warmed my heart and reminded me why the future is bright. Just as I had little tolerance for any shout-you-down debate session, the kids showed there was little room for small minds and narrow thinking. Beyond the preponderance of bright minds, another sign that they appreciated the discussion is the fact that so many stayed for so long.

Once again, however, the prevailing sentiment in response to the myths debunked and background shared was: Why is it we don’t know this?

We’re still going to have to work on the media piece, which was my talk’s centerpiece. These days, the more I try to talk about the performance of our media organizations, the more folks want credible information about Islam and Muslims instead. Having that provided by our news media continues to be a challenge.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have shared some perspectives that folks tend not to get. For that I again thank the Eissey Campus Diversity Committee, the Student Activities Office, Dr. David Pena and Christie Bravo of the Library Learning Rescources Center, the Spanish Club, PBSC’s faculty members, directors, President Dennis Gallon and all of today’s guests.

And once again, the kids.

Signing a program flyer at the request of a new friend who said: "Thank you, I wish everybody thought more like what you’re talking about today. It would be a much better world." We agreed that it’s an ongoing learning process. And in her words: “Eventually we’ll get there.”

— C.B. Hanif

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8 Comments so far ↓

  • Alex Rosenberg

    This gathering and the informed and articulate remarks by CB Hanif was an enlightening experience. It was refreshing to learn more about the people who are our Muslim neighbors and to realize that there is a diversity of views and perspectives, just like there would be among any group of people. It became clear, tho, that to truly understand the issues, we always need to seek deeper information than we get from news headlines. The views of many of those in attendance also indicates that the issues of American freedom, our shared and different views of history are complicated and require much more education, examination, understanding and tolerance.

  • David Pena


    Having been present for the entire event, I can say without a doubt that your account is so much more complete and balanced than the local media coverage. I’ve heard many positive comments about the event and have received numerous requests for more like it. Many thanks to you for providing this important educational opportunity to PB State students, staff, and the local community.

  • Alfonso Saahir

    Keep striving for excellence in giving the correct information about Al Islam.We are the medium in administering the medicine needed to topple the disease of ignoance.

  • Bilal Yasin El-Amin

    Praise be to G-d. This is an excellent report. It would be good if we could hold classes like this for media reporters.

  • Roy Nyren

    Thank you for your report on the event at Palm Beach State College. The only way to move forward is in interfaith dialogue and getting to know one another of different faiths. We are all in this together to counter the hate and fear.

  • Jaabir K. Muhammad

    Great job. May Allah continue to bless you in your good works.

  • Evelyn T Garcia

    It was a pleasure reading about this event and how wonderful when you can reach young people with the facts that dispute the fiction about Islam. May I recommend a new book coming out Oct. 12 from Dr. James Zogby called Arab Voices–What They are Telling us & Why it Matters. Dr. Zogby is a friend and founder of the Arab American Institute. We work together through the Democratic National Committee’s National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council, of which I am a member.
    Keep up the great work. All the best, Evelyn

  • Faheem Shuaibe

    Alhamdulillah! C. B.

    This is journalism and dawah at its best. What you are thinking and doing is exactly what needs to be done in that domain – Media, Interfaith, Journalism. You are a pro. May Allah continue to bless you.

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