Nabeel Syed: Conquering Islamophobia

March 25, 2016

Despite a soft-spoken, unassuming demeanor, he and his mosque have received multiple death threats. He said he fears one day these threats may become a reality. Nabeel Syed, junior, is a Muslim and a target of Islamophobia, the prejudice against Islam or Muslims. To end this Islamophobia and advocate for Syrian refugees, Nabeel joined more than 200 other Muslims of different ages for a rally on the steps of the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City Feb. 16.

“This event gave us the chance to empower Muslims because only 2 percent of American Muslims actually get to meet their elected officials,” Nabeel said. “We build relationships with elected officials by having them [talk] to Muslims who speak out against Islamophobia. Some of [the representatives] were sympathetic, and some of them were not willing to cooperate with me, but that’s just politics.”

Faizan Syed, Nabeel’s cousin and 2006 KHS graduate, helped organize the rally. Faizan is the director of the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group.

“I believe it’s important to have Nabeel and all young American Muslims understand they are Americans and a vital part of the democratic process,” Faizan said. “Islamophobia is far worse today than it has ever been. There’s an industry that spends hundreds of millions of dollars to demonize Islam and American Muslims for the purpose of gaining money and political power. So, we are passionate about letting [young Muslims] know change is possible and giving them the steps to create changes in the communities they live in.”

Nabeel spoke personally with state representatives Deb Lavender and Andrew Koenig inside the Capitol building. He talked about the difficulties of being Muslim and about bill HJR 69, which proposes banning Sharia law, the Islamic legal system.

“Being a Muslim in America is hard because of the negative portrayal of [Islam] in the news,” Nabeel said. “People often think Sharia law is bad, but Sharia law mainly says that Muslims have to follow the rules and laws of any country they live in. [While in Jefferson City], we stopped the anti-Sharia legislation, and we got the guy who introduced anti-Syrian refugee bills, [Representative Mike Moon], to be removed from his position.”

Nabeel and his family moved from Pakistan to Kirkwood in 2000. He said he has not been a target of Islamophobia at KHS, but he has encountered it at his mosque.

“In this school, specifically, I haven’t seen much Islamophobia, but at my mosque, for example, a lot of the officials deal with death threats,” Nabeel said. “I work at the mosque sometimes for the Sunday School organization, and we also receive death threats and bomb threats because of what happens in the [news] with ISIS. In reaction [to the threats] we have security guards and police patrol the area. We also have a private military group come to the mosque and teach us self-defense [in case] an intruder or attacker comes to the mosque.”

Justin Gray, junior and one of Nabeel’s friends, said he and Nabeel have discussed Islam, the Syrian refugee crisis and Islamophobia. Gray said he sees Islamophobia in students who are quick to judge Islam without fully understanding it.

“I do see [Islamophobia] in Kirkwood and in some of my friends,” Gray said. “While I personally have no problem with Islam or the Syrian refugees, I hear the comments [my friends] make. It’s similar to how some people view Mexicans: they think [the refugees] will steal our jobs. I think it [stems from] a fear of Islam. I’m not a Muslim, but I’ve done my research, and I’ve talked to Nabeel so I can understand it more. But, I think many kids here don’t actually understand Islam and automatically think ISIS is practicing Islam the way it should when, in fact, it’s not. To make a judgement, I think people just need to understand it first.”

Nabeel said he agrees Islam is misunderstood. He hopes to continue spreading awareness of Islamophobia at both KHS and in the Kirkwood community.
“I tell my teachers and friends that what you see on the news isn’t what Islam is,” Nabeel said. “[Groups like ISIS are] just extremists trying to put a bad face on Islam. Basically, many people tend to believe Islam is a religion of violence and war, but Islam is [actually] a religion about peace.”

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