Hoping To Dispel Misconceptions, Young Muslims Welcome Questions About Their Faith

Saturday’s “Meet a Muslim” event in Houston was one of many held across the U.S.

Talk of travel bans and limiting refugees from the Middle East has sparked Young Muslims in Houston to address misconceptions about their faith.

A nationwide outreach effort involves handshakes and friendly conversation, with the goal of changing how Islam and those that follow it are viewed.

It's a tranquil Saturday at a downtown Houston park, where a handful of millennials are holding signs reading, "I'm a Muslim – Ask Me Anything."

"It is a very uncertain time, I think people are very afraid, and certainly I think times are changing are very fast” says Bilal Rana, President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, a national young men and boys group.

He says discrimination is a "part of life" for Muslim-Americans. But adding to longstanding concerns about Islamophobia are reports of a recent rise in hate incidents against minorities in the U.S. and the feeling among some Muslims that policies like the Trump Administration's travel bans are targeting them.

University of Houston student Rahman Nasir says the tense climate hits home.

"For example, yesterday I wanted to go to the gym around 8-9 PM, and my mom said ‘no the tensions are high these days, it's not safe for you to go out late by yourself,'” he explains.

This group feels the best way to address misunderstandings of Islam is to foster an open conversation about the religion. Organizers describe it as a strong first step, one of many they hope will ease tensions.

For a feature-length version of this story that aired on NPR, go here.

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