This Muslim Teen Is Fighting Islamophobia By Inviting Strangers Into Her Home For Dinner

"It's important that we take a stand for ourselves and inform people about why they're wrong about us."

California high school student Yusra Rafeeqi, who lives with her family in the liberal enclave of Palo Alto, was troubled by the increased instances of Islamophobia she witnessed after the November, 2016 election. But instead of just sharing her gripes on social media, the 15-year-old chose to take action.

In an effort to combat Islamophobia in her own neighborhood, Rafeeqi created a Facebook page called "Dine With a Muslim Family." Rafeeqi felt if she could invite strangers into her home for a meal and conversation about Islam, they would have a more solid grasp of the frequently misunderstood religion.

"I thought of the idea 'Dine with a Muslim Family' after the uproar that was caused from the 2016 election. Knowing that our future president was confident in negative and ignorant thoughts on minorities, specifically Muslims, made me surprised that someone like this was widely supported," Rafeeqi tells A Plus. "I felt the need to make sure my community knew that Muslims are not how we are portrayed in the media, and that we are truly peaceful and happy to be a part of the American community." 

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The Rafeeqi family's personal experiences with Islamophobia in recent months only fueled the high school sophomore's desire for more widespread understanding of her religion.

"I have been called a terrorist on 9/11, and so have my siblings. My sister, who wears a headscarf, had been called a terrorist and rag-head in front of her 1-year-old daughter, who was also taunted that she was going to join ISIS when she grew up," Rafeeqi explains. "My mother, who wears a headscarf and an abaya — a full-length covering — has been honked at, and people have moved away from her in fear on streets and rudely stared at her." 

One horrifying incident that really stands out to the teen occurred recently as she and her family were walking to the beach. "A car pulled up next to us and the man driving opened the door and screamed 'Heil Hitler'," Rafeeqi recalls. "For a split second, my family and I were fearing for our lives." 

Statistics show the Rafeeqi family isn't alone. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center's Annual Census of Hate Groups and Extremist Organizations, the number of anti-Muslim organizations known to be operating in the United States rose from just 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016. Recent FBI statistics also show hate crimes against Muslims grew by 67 percent in 2015, the year in which Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign. 

Though the Rafeeqis have only invited a handful of people into their home so far, Yusra says the response from her community has been "very positive and supportive." Furthermore, the absence of negative comments makes the teen "hopeful that I'm doing something right."

Per HuffPost, the first duo who dined with the Rafeeqi family earlier this month gushed about the experience on Facebook. "Yusra's mother prepared a wonderful Pakistani meal and all six of us sat around the dinner table to learn from each other. At the beginning, we talked about serious stuff — religion, kindness, cultural differences, traditions, discrimination, and humanity. By the end, we were just a bunch of friends laughing together," Alex Radelich and Dalton Lemert wrote.

Though many of Yusra's guests are local residents or students from nearby Stanford University, this social experiment has impacted her in ways that extend far beyond her hometown. "This experience has taught me how important it is to speak out for yourselves and your close ones," she explains. "We can't go on receiving ignorance and expect our president or our schools to do something about it. It's important that we take a stand for ourselves and inform people about why they're wrong about us."

And she's not the only young person who has fought hate with whatever resources are at her disposal. Last year two middle school students took a stand against Islamophobia with some creative Halloween costumes, and American Muslim author Qasim Rashid is taking to the fight against Islamophobia to Twitter.

Ever wise beyond her years, Yusra also has advice for people looking to combat Islamophobia in their own neighborhoods. She recommends "taking a moment to realize that Muslims aren't violent, terrorists, or harmful in any way — whether that be by researching the teachings of Islam  or talking to a Muslim — or understanding that crime does not have a religion, and that targeting a whole group or race for something isn't right." 

With more dinners already scheduled for the coming weeks, Yusra is clearly doing her part to fight Islamophobia, and we have a feeling she's destined for greatness in the years ahead!

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