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Guest speaker shares a different look at the contributions of American Muslims

The opens the floor Dalia Mogahed (right) to questions from Westminster College community members after her presentation in the Jewett Center for the Performing Arts on April 2. Mogahed is the director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, which began the “Muslims for American Progress” initiative looking at the contributions of Muslims in the U.S., most specifically in the state of Michigan. (Photo by John Perri)

The Westminster College community gathered on Tuesday to hear a different take on Americans Muslims, connecting research and a personal stories to paint a whole picture.

The presentation titled, “Muslims for American Progress: An Evidenced Based Portrait of American Muslim,” is part of a larger project launched by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The initiative focuses primarily on the contributions of Muslims in the state of Michigan. Using quantitative data and qualitative data to conduct the study.

Dalia Mogahed, the director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, presented the findings of this project at the event in the Jewett Center for the Performing Arts Auditorium.

Mogahed is a researcher who focuses on American Muslims, according to her bio. She also served on the advisory council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2009 appointed by President Barack Obama.

Mogahed said she was inspired to do this research and give this speech to connect information with the faces behind them.

“[American Muslims] haven’t had an opportunity to show the world what they are, to show the world what they contribute,” Mogahed said. “It was important to do the study to document the hard facts and the human face of American Muslim contributions.”

In her speech, Mogahed shared the stories of eight Muslims. They came from all sorts of backgrounds and had contributed to the world in different ways whether it be through medicine, technology, education, international marathons or aid during the Flint, Michigan water crisis.

The Muslim community is the most ethnically diverse in the United States, Mogahed said. And, since they do not have a majority race they are also the most ethnically diverse religion as well.

Mogahed also said 60 percent of all news coverage in the U.S. is about the Muslim community and 90 percent of that coverage is negative.

Misinformation is spread through this coverage and Muslim Americans face similar challenges the Catholic Church faced 100 years ago, Mogahed said.

Dhara Joshi, an attendee at the event, said the speech connected information and with faces of real people which humanized the entire discussion.  

“I thought her presentation was really informative,” Joshi said. “It had real nice touch of the reality as well as that emotional sense of what is actually happening.”

Harsh Debal, an attendee, said he liked the flow of the speech and how Mogahed connected everything together.  

“I liked that she went through what the narrative is right now,” Debal said. “Then she kind of went through the statistics, why they picked that statistics, went through the examples, kind of brought that back in and how the perception is so different than the reality was.”

Another attendee Reena Tam said she was happy Mogahed had a personal investment in the study that she wasn’t an outsider looking in on the Muslim American community.

“She had firsthand experience in this,” Tam said. “It wasn’t just a researcher from the outside kind of spewing out facts. She kind of added her own anecdotal stuff, brought in other people’s stories as well, so it wasn’t just facts.”

Mogahed overall message was that Muslims are important to the U.S.

“Muslims are vital organ to the body of today,” Mogahed said.  “As a vital organ, America is strong, prosperous, more innovative and yes, safer because Muslims call it home. This study is a reflection of that idea.”

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John Perri
John Perri is a senior communication major and a huge New England Patriots fan. Perri was raised in downtown Boston but currently lives in Utah for now. He loves to talk to strangers, so if you see him come say “hi!”

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