CALIFORNIA – A warm family dinner and a friendly chat were all what California teen Yusra Rafeeqi was able to offer to counter anti-Muslim sentiments that have soared since the election of US President Donald Trump.
“My mom, who wears a headscarf and abaya (a full length covering) has been rudely stared at and honked at, and people have often moved away from her on the street in fear,” Rafeeqi said in an email to HuffPost.
“In one instance, a car saw her, pulled over while my family and I were walking on the street, and screamed ‘Heil Hitler,’ which made all of us very scared.”
As she wasn’t old enough to be able to vote, she decided to do her part to confront Islamophobia that Trump propagated during his campaign, which, after the election, has been reflected in his executive order perceived by many as Muslim ban.
The 15-year-old Yusra decided to make a Facebook page called “Dine With a Muslim Family” to do what she could to confront bias in her own community.
“Seeing a president who depicted Muslims, Mexicans, and many more minorities negatively made me feel as though I needed to make sure that America, or at least my Palo Alto and Bay Area community, knew that Muslims are not how they are portrayed by Trump or the media,” Rafeeqi said.
Her parents, who immigrated to the US from Pakistan 30 years ago, fully supported the idea.
Promoting her idea, Rafeeqi used to stand at a busy intersection with her dad every Thursday with signs inviting passersby to “Have Dinner with a Muslim Family.”
The Rafeeqis hosted their first dinner on May 5 with guests Alex Radelich and Dalton Lemert, the 23-year-old co-founders of Explore Kindness, a nonprofit that “aims to make the world a better place, one act of random kindness at a time.”
“Yusra’s mother prepared a wonderful Pakistani meal and all six of us sat around the dinner table to learn from each other,” Radelich and Lemert wrote in a Facebook post.
“At the beginning, we talked about serious stuff ― religion, kindness, cultural differences, traditions, discrimination, and humanity. By the end, we were just a bunch of friends laughing together. Food has a magical way of doing that.”
The family hosted their second dinner on May 13, with two couples and another woman present.
“They were very open-minded and supportive people,” Rafeeqi said.
Rafeeqi is not the only American Muslim who decided to interfere and do her part in ending misconceptions.
Recently, American Muslim poet Mona Haydar and her husband Sebastian Robins decided to promote interfaith understanding by stationing themselves outside of a Cambridge, Massachusetts library with doughnuts, coffee, and a sign emblazoned with the words “Ask a Muslim.”
They invited passers-by to stop and ask them questions about anything, including their Muslim faith.
Amanda Saab, a Detroit-based social worker and the first Muslim woman to compete on Fox’s “MasterChef” in a headscarf, also started inviting guests over her home for a home-cooked meal and a conversation about Islam.
“Let’s start at a basic fundamental need that we all need, which is nourishment and let’s not only nourish our stomachs, but let’s nourish our minds,” Saab said on an NBC News video in March.
With several dinners scheduled for the upcoming weeks, the Muslim teen doesn’t anticipate quitting any time soon.
“I plan to host dinners for as long as I can, at least until it’s time for college,” she said.