On Wednesday at the University of Houston, the Urdu Baithak student organization and Indus Arts Council held their largest event of the semester, “Islamophobia,” to discuss the prevalence of anti-Islamic thoughts in modern culture.
The event took place in the Kiva Room in Farish Hall and featured Jibran Nasir, a prominent Pakistani lawyer and political activist. The event commenced at 4:40 p.m. with Nasir showing an audience of approximately 30 people “Reclaiming Pakistan,” a documentary about his political activism since 2014.
“Muslims are thought to be the masterminds behind planes being hijacked and crashing into buildings,” Nasir said. “The world’s most popular airlines are Emirates, Etihad and Qatar from the Middle East, and Westerners are very comfortable flying in those, knowing that even when they take off, all the announcements are made in Arabic.”
Nasir said things are different on a U.S.-based airliner.
“If someone were to make the similar announcement to him, reading the Quran or exchanging greetings on Southwest or United Airlines, they will be thrown out of the plane,” Nasir said.
Blindly fear thy neighbor
Nasir is known for his youth outreach on nonviolence and combating Islamophobia.
As a result of myriad political scandals and terrorist acts such as the Peshawar attack in Pakistan, Nasir has been committed to eradicate extremist violence. He co-founded social welfare organizations such as Elaj Trust, Pakistan For All and Never Forget Pakistan.
Nasir discussed that although the media portray Islam in a negative light, Muslims and non-Muslims are guilty of being ignorant. He said that Muslims don’t know enough about their religion and non-Muslims don’t make the effort to research about what Islam actually preaches.
Most Muslims rely on the interpretation presented by clerics that Nasir said can possibly be biased.
“You see anchors sitting and speculating that once an attack has happened and a person is found to be Muslim, it becomes more about his religion than his socioeconomic circumstances,” Nasir said. “The question will immediately go to ‘Which mosque did he go to?’”
Nasir added that while Muslims are obliged to condemn an attack after it occurs, the Pope doesn’t defend all Christian Catholics when a Christian commits a crime. Muslims are often considered guilty unless proven innocent, Nasir said, and to mitigate the extent of Islamophobia they must be compassionate and increase their tolerance to criticism.
“Personally, I am just going to get out there and talk to people about being involved, the same way that he does, but in Pakistan,” Public relations junior Mehreen Arshad said. “I think the best way to be the best representative that you can be is to talk to people about their problems.”
A sentiment needs changing
As Nasir’s discussion continued, the audience became more engaged.
Some asked questions, and Nasir responded with information gathered from his research and personal experience. He said it isn’t always the religion that preaches violence, but a violent person can make their religion violent because they incorporate their behavior with their faith.
“People tend to generalize each other, and one of the things that my family does that they think is innocuous is they will see someone who is covered or someone who is dark-skinned and say ‘That man is Arab’,” Environmental studies senior Oscar Lázaro said.
Lázaro then took initiative to reshape his parents’ perspective.
“I finally corrected my parents and told them, ‘Well, that person may not be Arab, and if they are Muslim at all, you have no way of knowing what sect they are in or what their beliefs are, or if they are homophobic as you presume them to be,” Lázaro said.
Urdu Baithak will host an event with Nasir at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Athletics/Alumni Center. The event will be in the Urdu language for native speakers.
Nasir will continue his tour to multiple universities across the country once he concludes his event at UH.