IRVINE – A group of Muslim residents of Irvine city, Orange County, California, have organized a “Meet a Muslim” event in a shopping center, handing out flowers to passersby in a bid to dispel stereotypes about their faith.
“I just wanted people to know that I’m a Muslim man, and I’m just like every other man,” said Haseeb Rahman, who grew up in the Bay Area and is raising a family in Irvine, KPCC reported on Wednesday, January 20.
“I love sports, I have children, I love doing fun things… and I want them to not be afraid.”
Rahman was one of about 50 volunteers who gathered last Saturday at the Irvine Spectrum shopping center as part of a “Meet a Muslim” event.
The event aimed at dispelling negative stereotypes about Muslims in the wake of recent attacks.
While some shoppers did not pay attention to the Muslims’ stand, others waved hello and some approached to make Muslim friends.
Michael Scoma, who was there shopping with his family, is one of those who approached the group.
“I thought I’d take a chance and let my kids say hello,” Scoma said.
“Frankly, we don’t have many Muslim friends, so I thought it would be good to get to know some.”
Praising the idea, Scoma added, “I think that you break down a lot of ignorance by getting to know people, and this is a great way to do it.”
Feeling nervous at the beginning, volunteers said they were rewarded by comments they got from passersby.
“It was really emotional for me,” said Afreen Gaffar, who also helped to organize the event.
Gaffar said she was humbled by the reaction they got; people stopped by to encourage them, to thank them, even give them hugs.
“I have not experienced anything like this before. It shows that people are actually so kind and so generous, and they are actually moved by what is going on in the media,” she said.
“They know that doesn’t represent our religion, that doesn’t represent Islam at all.”
Jay Moubayed, an immigrant from Syria, cheered the group on, but suggested they do outreach somewhere other than Irvine, a home to a large population of Muslim immigrants from regions like South Asia and the Middle East.
“Most of [us] here are Middle Eastern,” Moubayed joked, glancing around the mall.
“We’re engineers, we’re doctors, we’re part of society,” he said. “Our kids are raised here.”