Daisy Khan breaks down Islamophobia


Henry Owens , Staff Writer

Daisy Khan, a prominent Muslim activist, spoke about islamophobia and Islamic identity in America at a UD assembly this Tuesday. As Executive Director of the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE), Khan educates many about the religion of Islam and advocates for interfaith collaboration.

Khan came to the school in part because of her personal connection with Daanyal Agboatwalla (11) and his family. Agboatwalla introduced Khan before her speech, talking about his own relationship with Islam and when he saw Khan speak for the first time. Especially given the negative stereotypes of both Islam and women, Agboatwalla felt it was important to have a strong Muslim woman come to speak to the school, he said.

Khan began the assembly by discussing her background as an immigrant and a Muslim. As the only Muslim in her predominantly Jewish high school, Khan was asked to give a presentation about Islam, she said. She initially felt overwhelmed and didn’t think she could speak on behalf of the entire religion. But by using a book about Islam written by her grandfather, she was able to stand before the class and present. At 16 years old, Khan realized that she had become an ambassador to her faith, which ended up being her life’s work.

Yana Gitelman (11) appreciated Khan discussing how her Muslim identity evolved with changing public perception. “I felt like I can relate to that a lot,” Gitelman said. “In a somewhat different way, but a lot of what she said resonated with me.”

Khan dived into 10 specific misconceptions about Islam, and how each example of misinformation has negatively influenced US policy. These misconceptions include equating Islam with terror, believing that Muslims want to take over the United States, and thinking that Islamic values are at odds with American values. For each of the misconceptions, Khan mentioned specific pieces of unjust legislation, such as anti-Muslim immigration laws, that had been passed as a result.

“There were a lot of very telling statistics,” Leyli Granmayeh (11) said. “After talking about how much misinformation there is, I think it was good she went through some of the ideals of the religion.”

“Everything she was saying was very clear there was no vagueness and her information,” Nya Marshall (11) said. “She was very articulate, she opened it up in a way that would had a few laughs because it’s a pretty heavy topic.”

Towards the end of the assembly, Khan talked about Islamic ideals by briefly recounting key points in the history of Islam, as well as going through the Five Pillars of Islam, which includes the important values of justice and charity.

“She emphasized that, within the text, a lot of the goals of Islam relates to peace,” Diana Shaari (12) said. “Whereas given the representation of Islam in the media, that’s not necessarily where most people’s minds go to when they think of Islam.”

“I hope that students are now more familiar with Islam, and that they understand what the religion truly is rather than how it is represented in the media,” Roey Nornberg (12) said.
Although the presentation was for the most part well received, some students felt that certain parts could have been done better.

“I thought she said a lot of very important things,” Granmayeh said. “I just think her slides were sometimes difficult to follow. She was going fairly quickly.”

Agboatwalla said it would have been ideal if there had been more time to go into specific text from the Quran that disproved some of the misconceptions.

A major goal of both the movie and the assembly is to help facilitate dialogue. Nornberg, Shaari and Jude Herwitz (12) are leaders of Interfaith, a partnership between the school and Al Noor, the largest Islamic High School in New York, located in Brooklyn. Interfaith works to create opportunities for dialogue between people from different backgrounds, Shaari said.

On Friday, they are screening “A Jihad for Love,” a documentary about the experiences of gay Muslims. Interfaith, along with the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, is hosting a discussion after the movie.

“A common misconception about Islam is that all Islamic countries and communities prohibit homosexuality,” Nornberg said. “The movie contrasts that and shows that it is possible to be gay and a practicing Muslim.”

“I thought the movie did a really nice job and can spark a lot of important dialogue,” Shaari said.
“I’m really glad that we were able to have an assembly on it and we should also further that discussion throughout our history curriculum and through discussions,” Mikayla Benson (11) said.

“I think [Khan] coming out and speaking about those things very bluntly is good, because these things are uncomfortable, obviously,” said Agboatwalla. “But when you talk, and you speak to people of different faiths, I think that makes it much easier to understand, because the problem that we’re having today is a matter of misunderstanding.”