“Islamophobia Has Awakened Us”: Khalafalla Osman and Azmad Din
June 18, 2015
This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives.
Khalafalla Osman, an American Muslim of Sudanese descent, dresses traditionally, such that a stranger can tell he is a Muslim. As a student at the University at Albany, he took part in the Muslim Students Association's congregational prayer, giving the sermon from time to time.
Shortly after the shootings in Garland, Texas, in 2015—two men with guns opened fire on police at a contest for the “best” cartoon about the Prophet Mohammed that featured a racist demagogue from Holland, with one of the gunmen later claiming allegiance to ISIS—Osman gave the sermon at the Muslim Students Association. “The message of my sermon was not to act ignorant in the face of ignorance,” but to be merciful, he recalled in an American Pilgrimage Project conversation in Albany with his friend and fellow student Azman Din. “Allah is the most merciful,” he explained, “and we won't be given mercy if we aren't merciful to the people we meet every day.”
The prayer service ended and Osman went back out on campus, into Albany. “I was chillin' with my friend, minding our own business. Random guy comes up to me, he greets me with a profanity—I can't even repeat what he said. 'You hear about what happened in Garland? Your people's time is coming!' he shouted at me."
It was a clear instance of Islamophobia: one stranger acting hostile toward another because of the other’s presumed Muslim religion. Osman’s friend rose up in anger, but Osman—as he recounts in the conversation—was able to take his own advice from the sermon and turn the situation around.
And that, he suggests, has been a fundamental experience for American Muslims since 9/11—good emerging from evil in the paradoxical process that different religions explore in their distinctive ways.
“We went back to the mosques, and the scholars taught us what our faith was, and we benefited. These guys [the Islamophobes] didn’t know what they were talking about. But also, we didn’t know what we were doing—we didn’t appreciate the religion we were brought up on.”
“I feel like Islamophobia has awakened us.”
The interview was recorded and produced by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.