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Ohio Muslim Groups Stand Up for their Embattled Community

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A Muslim group in Columbus, Ohio, is working to aid Muslims, immigrant communities, and refugees, giving them advice and support.

“Twenty-five-thousand Muslim children and youth in Columbus are at risk of drugs, gangs, violence,” Zerqa Abid, founder and executive director of My Project USA, told Middle East Eye.

“[We have] an immigrant and refugee population that is traumatized and who have cultural and language barriers.”

Abid launched his project to aid Columbus Muslim, refugee, and immigrant communities, many of which are targeted by human traffickers, gangs and drug dealers.

The group has devoted recent years to offering services to its residents, many of them Somali immigrants.

Last month, it secured a grant from the Columbus City Council to create a football league for the neighborhood’s youth by opening sports fields, hiring coaches and putting together an advisory board.

“The issues we see in our community on a daily basis are domestic violence, trauma, parental abuse and children who are trying to run away. FGM [female genital mutilation] is also a serious problem,” Abid said.

Islamophobia Too

Working to help their community, American Muslims see rising Islamophobia as a major obstacle to their work.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a leading Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, said that anti-Muslim discrimination incidents and hate crimes are up 83 and 21 percent respectively, compared with the first quarter of this year.

During that time, CAIR documented more than 1,000 reports of potential bias incidents. The numbers include situations involving various government agencies.

This is part of an “overall spike in bigotry targeting American Muslims and other minority communities since the election of Donald Trump as president,” said Zainab Arain, a coordinator in CAIR’s research and advocacy department.

“The most prevalent trigger of anti-Muslim bias incidents in 2018 remains the victim’s ethnicity or national origin, accounting for 33 percent of the total,” according to CAIR.

The nature of the traditionally patriarchal Muslim community in Ohio adds to the group’s challenges.

“The families of victims are coming from a cultural background that is patriarchal. People say: ‘This is a new place that I call home. I don’t know what the outcome will be [if I call the police], [what will become of my] family shame and honor. I don’t want to become the poster child for this type of situation,’” Imran Malik, outreach and interfaith director at Noor Islamic Cultural Center outside of Columbus, said.

“The challenge is that we have people coming from different places where law enforcement is not very ideal, so for them to get engaged with city officials and community service organization… there’s a mindset of apprehension,” he said.

With limited resources, Muslim groups are working to help immigrants and partner with other groups to help deal with issues like drug abuse, bullying in schools, and domestic violence.

They are also trying to encourage communities to maintain their identity and cultural heritage while pursuing the American dream and using diversity as a point of strength.

“There’s an old saying that America is a melting pot,” said Malik. “It should be a fruit salad bowl, where people can keep their culture but also be part of the community.”

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