Story by Sarah Fulton
Aman Ali, 27, told stories of Muslim Americans to an audience of over 50 laughing students Monday night on Pomerantz Stage in Olmsted.
The speech, sponsored by the Student Activities Board, centered around the point that the history of Muslims in America is made up of many different stories.
“There is no one single uniform narrative of Muslims in America,” Ali said.
The stories came from the two road trips Ali, a stand-up comedian, went on in 2010 and 2011 and featured in his blog “30 Mosques in 30 Days.” Ali and his partner Bassam Tariq traveled over 25,000 miles over the course of a year to visit a different mosque on each day of the Ramadan festival. Their efforts were also featured on CNN.
Ali said that when the media asks him whether he is trying to fight the perception of Islam in the United States, he always has the same answer.
“No, we were trying to tell stories about them,” Ali said. “I was more concerned with having an honest conversation. Like other groups we are not exempt to criticism.”
The story that stuck out to President of the Muslim Student Association Nazia Ashraful, was one of the first mosques in the United States was founded in 1908 in North Dakota.
“The whole idea of there being Muslims in North Dakota in 1908 really blew my mind. As (Ali) said, I picture the history of Muslims in American being more recent in the last couple of decades not stretching back as far as the 1800s,” Ashraful said. “That really interested me and opened me up to a whole new idea of Muslims in America.”
Ali said that the experience in North Dakota also opened his eyes about media portrayal of Muslims.
“These people had been here for hundreds of years. We were finding so many stories of Muslims living peaceably with their neighbors but this is not what I was seeing on TV,” Ali said. “This country does not get enough credit for how accepting it is in reality.”
Some stories focused more on Ali’s individual experience. One story was about a Confederate gift shop in Chula, Ga. Ali said that while driving with the CNN crew he spotted a “huge” confederate flag. He pulled over and discovered the gift shop with three men outside of it, who “only had five teeth between them.” Despite the CNN crew’s protest he went into the gift shop because it was “too racist-ly awesome to pass up.” However, he discovered that the men were welcoming.
“Here I was the one being prejudicial against these guys thinking they were racist,” Ali said. “The whole idea is the cultural baggage that I bring to the table.”
By telling such stories Ashraful felt that Ali made his point.
“He was not trying to convince us,” Ashraful said. “He just told stories and by doing that he really did convince us of a whole new perspective of what Muslims are like in America.”
First-year Bethany Larson, who attended to fulfill a diversity event requirement for pre-pharmacy, agreed the stories created a great atmosphere.
“It was very casual. He was not reading off a script, he was interacting with the audience,” Larson said.
Larson said at first she was not looking forward to the speech but her mind was quickly changed.
“I think it was interesting and enjoyable. I thought it was going to be boring because I did not really know what it was going to be about, but he made it funny and entertaining,” Larson said.
Ashraful said that she feels it is important for students to attend diversity events to gain understanding.
“A lot of what we learn about religion comes from the media and so not enough people time to learn about the religion from the actual people who practice it,” Ashraful said. “This kind of event is a way to learn about the practicing of Islam through stories and the journey that he went on.”