More than 36 percent of Americans have an unfavorable perception of Islam, according to one study.
Salaam Al-Marayati believes it’s up to American-Muslims to change that.
Too often, he said, American-Muslims shy away from talking about their religion and, instead, defend themselves against negative perceptions.
Al-Marayati, the national president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), was the keynote speaker at the MPAC-Western New York Chapter’s 10th annual banquet Saturday in Adams Mark Hotel.
Al-Marayati, who helped found MPAC in 1988 to fully integrate Muslims into American society, came to Buffalo from the nonprofit organization’s headquarters in Los Angeles to celebrate the Western New York chapter’s 10th anniversary.
He urged the estimated 400 Western New York American-Muslims in attendance to actively discuss their religion on a regular basis instead of defending perceptions against it.
“If all you do is define yourself as what you’re not, you will never get to define who you actually are,” Al-Marayati said. “So public perception is about telling our story and making the American-Muslim narrative a common part of our culture, of our cultural media, of the Oprah show, of all the talk shows, of Hollywood. To tell more stories that involve American-Muslims as your neighbor, as your doctor, as your teacher, which we are.”
In addition, Al-Marayati said, American-Muslims must develop an increased presence in media and government.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Mayor Byron W. Brown and Kathy Hochul, the Erie County Democrat tapped to run for lieutenant governor by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, attended the banquet.
During the event, MPAC-Western New York honored William J. Hochul Jr., the U.S. attorney in Buffalo who has developed a strong relationship with the local Muslim community; Hodan Isse, the former first lady of Somalia who teaches at the University at Buffalo; and M. Raheemuddin, a community activist and philanthropist.
Al-Marayati said he believes American-Muslims have come a long way in achieving sociopolitical and cultural integration since 9/11.
“I want people to feel like they can make a difference,” Al-Marayati said. “It does make a difference to call your newspaper, to call the TV station, to call your mayor, to attend your local meetings, and to say, ‘I’m an American-Muslim, this is what we have to offer.’ ”