NEW JERSEY – Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes about his faith, a sixteen-year-old American Muslim teen has created a multi-platform organization to embrace “acceptance and tolerance” and create an active community.
“Many people had prejudice and misconceptions about my faith, even when I was little,” Ziad Ahmed told MTV News.
“The media paints a picture of Islam, and many minorities, in a way that’s detrimental to the public’s perception of them,” he added.
Ahmed is a sophomore at Princeton Day School in Princeton, New Jersey.
Facing stereotyping from early age, the Bangladeshi-American practicing Muslim teen announced his decision to create Redefy.
Redefy is a multi-platform organization whose mission is “to boldly defy stereotypes, embrace acceptance and tolerance, redefine our perspectives positively, and create an active community.”
“I deal with prejudice every day and have my entire life,” he said, “from being put on the TSA watch list as a child because of my name and having to go to a separate counter to get my tickets … to being constantly told I am ‘cute for a brown kid.’
“I started Redefy to initiate a positive change in the world and to fight the ignorance which I have been victim to,” Ziad said.
“And more importantly, to fight the ignorance which people will fall victim to who may not have the opportunity to properly defend themselves or understand that there are people who accept them and love them for exactly who they are.”
Redefy operates as a website where people can share their experiences with prejudice.
They can also post personal reflections on current events where stereotyping and acceptance are part of a national and/or personal conversation.
The organization’s website also shares various stories about social justice issues on its Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr accounts.
Ziad hopes this interconnected network of experiences will unite people through their shared experiences.
“It’s so hard to hate someone when you understand what they’re going through,” the teen explained.
Standing Against Bias
The efforts of Ziad’s group expanded within American community, holding workshops for younger students to gain insight into what stereotypes are and how to combat them.
“They don’t necessarily know the terms stereotypes or prejudice,” he said, referring to people as young as fifth grade whom he worked with.
“But when you hear them articulate their experiences, they know it all too much.”
Redefy website is not the only effort made by Ziad to counter Islamophobia.
Currently, he works with a leadership team of four friends and 20 representatives in schools around the world advocating for the organization’s various campaigns.
He hopes to expand the work of Redefy in the future to hold larger conferences and wider-scale programs to educate young people on bias.
“What a lot of young people don’t realize is that this is our fight. Injustice is our fight,” Ziad added.
“Until we all unite in our injustices, ignorance will continue to exist.”
Although there are no official figures, the United States is believed to be home to between 6-8 million Muslims.
With the recent murder of three young Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the burning of an Islamic Center in Houston, Texas, which authorities ruled as arson, and the numerous reports of personal harassment, Muslims feel they are targeted in the States.
A recent Gallup poll, however, found 43 percent of Americans Nationwide admitted to feeling at least “a little” prejudice against Muslims.
Another Economist/YouGov poll found that a large majority of Americans believe that US Muslims are victims of discrimination amid recent attacks against the community.