In Rural America, Muslims Fight for Inclusion

OREGON – For Zakir Khan, a Linn-Benton Community College instructor, shopping is a decision that has to be examined wisely.

“It’s just deeply frustrating to me because I came here and I want this to be a place where people are accepted,” Khan said.

Khan’s concerns began on Election Day when he received unwelcoming stares as he walked down the aisles.

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It was almost as if other shoppers were asking, “What are you doing here, foreigner?” said the practicing Muslim.

Life as a Muslim in rural Oregon can mean invasive questions, awkward stares at the checkout counter and limited community resources.

Khan is establishing a local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in an effort to help that underserved population.

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“A lot of what I teach and the way I teach nowadays is a result of those intimate conversations I’ve had with students in which they tell me they were the victim of racism, or victim of homophobia, and this is how I felt,” Khan said.

Khan is not the only Muslim having concerns after Trump’s election.

Ismail Warsame, also Muslim, works at Oregon State University as a case manager for international students, is one of those Muslims.

Arriving shortly before 9/11, live has changed much for the Somali immigrant.

“Since then, I was always conscious of how people were going to perceive me,” he said.

“I mean, God forbid, if somebody with my background committed a crime, would that be treated as a crime, or would that be misconstrued as something bigger than that crime?”

Both Khan and Warsame say they work with well-meaning people who want to be good allies to the local Muslim community. And the men give the same advice to folks who want to help.

“If you’re not willing to work through differences, you’re never going to get anywhere,” Warsame said.