Canberra 'Meet a Muslim' forums aim to end Islamophobia
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Canberra 'Meet a Muslim' forums aim to end Islamophobia

Why do women wear headscarfs? What is Sharia law? Why are all terrorists Muslim?

It's not always easy to field these questions on behalf of millions of Muslims worldwide, but a group in Canberra is doing just that - having frank discussions with the public in a bid to counter misconceptions that feed Islamophobia.

Dr Suhaila Kamrani, Saba Awan, and Zainab Farouk on the radio.

Dr Suhaila Kamrani, Saba Awan, and Zainab Farouk on the radio.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

Muslims for Progressive Values organiser Saba Awan has coordinated four 'Meet a Muslim' events where Canberrans can ask anything they'd been wondering about Islam.

The group is planning their fifth Meet a Muslim event on June 26 in Belconnen.

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Saba Awan.

Saba Awan. Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

This, as well as on-air discussions as part of 24-hour radio during Ramadan via FM 99.5, aim to change negative narratives about Islam by working to eliminate fear of the unknown.

"While we absolutely do not see a link between terrorism and our religion we do see ourselves as having the responsibility to clarify and answer questions people have, or some of the misconceptions they might hold about our faith," she said.

"If we don't do the talking, and by we I mean the broader muslim community, who is going to do the talking? Are we going to let those who twist our faith and who don't represent it in an accurate way hijack the religion? Or do we say no?"

Omar Hashmi said he was naturally an introvert, but put that aside to be publicly "on show" at Meet a Muslim events or behind the radio microphone.

Omar Hashmi.

Omar Hashmi.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

"You get questions about Hijab, about Sharia Law. I'd say those questions have come up at every event so far," he said.

"What you get from mainstream media most of the time is reports of something bad, its not education about Islam. Most people coming along want to get a full story about Islam."

Dr Suhaila Kamrani.

Dr Suhaila Kamrani.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

Dr Suhaila Kamrani said meeting people broke through the warped perception that being Muslim was just one thing and demonstrated the diversity of cultures and opinions of those practicing the faith.

Zainab Farouk said in her lifetime the growth of anti-Islamic sentiment was palpable, but it was encouraging to see Canberrans making an effort to better understand the religion and its followers.

Zainab Farouk.

Zainab Farouk. Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

"To me and 100 per cent of Muslims I personally know, we can't make a logical connection between people being portrayed in the media as terrorists and their Islamic identity and what we see as our Islamic identity," she said.

"When people say positive things about Islam after a conversation with you that is a really nice moment."

Ms Awan said members of MPV felt and obligation be available and maintain a platform for level-headed community discussion such as the flood of nasty comments made online when plans for mosques were proposed for Queanbeyan and Canberra.

"Of course everyone has to be respectful, but we urge people to ask the hard questions, we don't want it to be they save the hard ones for the internet," she said.

"We want people to feel its an open and safe space to ask what's on their mind and so far we've had that."

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