Muslim Advocate Encourages Building Bridges Through Understanding

Aneelah Afzali. Photo: Jake Parrish/Yakima-Herald Republic

Yakima, MINA – As a graduate of the University of Oregon, Aneelah Afzali is a proud Duck. She enjoys pro football, too; she’s a big Seahawks fan.

Afzali is also a proud Muslim woman who believes in hard work, honesty, compassion, higher education and other family values shared by many of her fellow American citizens. Her parents wanted their five children to have a better life and sacrificed so they could succeed.

But speaking before the Downtown Yakima Rotary Club on Thursday, she said there’s an industry based on promoting Islamophobia and it’s sowing divisiveness by spreading myths and misinformation about Muslims.

“For the past four years, I’ve been working on building bridges. Unfortunately there is an entire industry devoted to spreading fear,” said Afzali, an attorney and graduate of Harvard Law School who worked at two law firms in Seattle, becoming a partner at one.

“It threatens all our civil rights because it’s driven by fear. Islamophobia also opens the door to other forms of bigotry.”

Islam the most often mentioned religion

Afzali, who formerly worked for Yakima attorney Scott Beyer, is executive director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network, which she founded in 2016. That initiative of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound came in response to challenges, including the rising threat of Islamophobia.

“What’s happening is not by accident,” Afzali said of the anti-Muslim campaign that’s spreading hate speech, false information and conspiracy theories.

In 2015, there was a 67 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims from 2014, but 2017 was the worst year in U.S. history of hate crimes against Muslims.

“I myself have had people roll down their windows and yell obscenities at me,” she said.

“Many people point to (President) Donald Trump, but it’s important to remember the trend of Islamophobia preceded Donald Trump,” she said.

“It’s the media coverage and how commentators speak about certain events,” she said. “Almost daily there are articles or shows on TV promoting conspiracy theories.

“Islam is the most often mentioned religion in mainstream media and 80 percent of it is negative.”

At the same time, according to FBI statistics, 94 percent of terror attacks from 1980-2005 in the United States were by non-Muslims, Afzali said.

“The reality is, my friends, that violence has no religion,” she said. “Violent communities unfortunately exist among all religions.”

Powerful voices telling lies about mainstream Islam

More than 1.7 billion people in the world call themselves Muslim. “The Muslim world is very diverse,” she said.

In the United States, Muslims are about 1 percent of the population and have lived here since before the country began.

“Muslims are not new to our country. Muslim soldiers fought in the Revolutionary War,” Afzali said. “I personally know Purple Heart recipients who are Muslim.”

Powerful voices are telling lies about mainstream Islam, said the Rev. Terry Kyllo, who as a founder of the Neighbors in Faith helped bring Afzali from Seattle to the Rotary Club and later Thursday to Central Lutheran Church, where she spoke again.(T/RE1/RS5)


Miraj News Agency (MINA)