In 2016, there were an estimated 10,000 Muslims living in the Madison area.
It’s impossible to capture the totality of their experience, but a few have recently allowed their stories to be recorded as part of an initiative called the Local Voices Network, giving them a chance to share their stories, concerns and hopes for the city.
LVN records small group conversations led by volunteer facilitators, then transcribes and posts those conversations to the LVN.org website. The idea is to create a unique listening channel that lifts up the voices of community members to local policymakers and the media.
The project is a partnership between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and Cortico, a nonprofit organization that works to foster constructive public conversation in the community and media.
Nyagoah, recorded in a conversation with Alex Lindenmeyer at the Capitol
I'm Muslim also and I used to wear the hijab ... I was on the bus, and I'm just minding my own business. I'm reading a book because I like to read... This lady pulled out my earphones and was like, "What is on your head?" I was like, "Okay," I ignored her because I really wasn't in the mood, so I ignored her, and then she started pulling on my shit ... Everybody in the bus can see this is happening. I'm trying to be nice because she was kind of old.
... She just kept doing it. Kept asking me questions like, "What is on your head, why are you wearing that?" Then she pulled it off and it came off and I'm just there, it was so embarrassing. I was so upset. Literally nobody said anything. No one. For the rest of my 20 minute bus ride, I just sit there, just looking stupid because nobody wanted — I was so upset. That thing gets on my nerves. If you see something that's not okay, like can you say something? Let them know that it's not okay.
Masood, recorded with Sue Robbins in Burr Oaks
In 2016, I received a phone call from a TV station. And they said, "Hey, there is a discussion in the White House about starting a Muslim registry." What are you talking about? That was the saddest day of my life. So, I got on television. And the question was asked, and I said, "Look, I love this country. And I gave up my Indian citizenship over 25 years ago based on what this country offers. And based on the leading by this country, that's highly un-American and unconstitutional. And will really divide the country based on just religion. That's not what this country is all about." But, I said, "I like the idea of starting a registry that will bring people together, regardless of their religion, color, ethnicity, or political affiliation. So today, I am announcing, I'm going to start a movement called Anti-Hate Registry. People can sign up. And then we can all work together to fight this.
Ali in a conversation with Kathy Cramer at the UW-Madison
It was a political science class that was focused around the topic of terrorism. And I actually, from day one, from reading the syllabus and everything and the first lecture, I noticed that the way that the professor in the class was structured around the topic of terrorism was very misleading. There were like several reasons. One was the use of, or I should say the misuse of, the word jihad and really explaining that — there was a clear linkage in the course to link Islam and like Muslims with terrorism and terrorists. And on top of that, like the two coincide with each other and everything. That was pretty problematic ... I think sometimes, like you said earlier, professors can always learn from their students, they don't have to take in those recommendations, but they can at least listen.
The following are excerpts from a conversation recorded at the Central Library with Phil Haslanger:
Awais If you want Muslim Americans to stick around, to contribute to this community in ways that we already are, and you want to improve and grow our community, you can't just expect us to come to you, because we've been ignored for — really, since the beginning, right? The oldest Muslims in this country are black Muslims, and they've been ignored pretty much since the beginning, since 1776. Their voice has been disenfranchised and ignored. There's more and more of it, obviously, as time goes on but it's still not representative. So, if you want — come to us. I would say, come to us. We want to hear from you, and we want to invite you into our homes and to our places of worship, into our community spaces.
Mouna That's something that I also like about Madison, is I think people strive to be better. I think we have a lot of growing to do. There's a lot of learning that needs to happen, but a lot of the encounters that I've had people with people have been mostly positive. I remember I was barista at Starbucks in a past life and I remember somebody pulled up in the window, and it was a person kind of that I expected to maybe say something rude or be rude. And he was just like, "I just want to know that you're welcome here." And while it's still a weird comment, it wasn't a bad comment. You know? ...
When Trump was inaugurated, I had people come up to me like crying, white people, in pity like, "I'm so sorry that this happened, but just know that I'm here to support you." I'm just like, "Please calm down. It's okay, I'll be fine." I like that there are people with good hearts, and who I believe want to learn and grow.
Umar Yeah, I was trying to think back to when I was in middle school. I would have benefited greatly from a counselor, mental health specialist, something like that. Although I wouldn't say I was experiencing trauma, per se, but I was struggling what many people in that life time frame experienced, just like figuring out who the heck I am, especially balancing culture with religion, and identity and my Americanness with my Indian/Pakistani background, and all of that. It's definitely a big challenge.
Maria I’d say on the interfaith side of Madison, I think that there's a lot happening, but I think there's so much more that could happen, especially from the Muslim community being involved, and I think a lot of that's just that we're not very united as a community, right? Even finding Muslims was hard ... I see all the churches having a "Blessed Ramadan" sign and then the "All Are Welcome" thing, and going beyond that, right? I'm sure some of those churches have those partnerships with individuals and groups like, maybe we meet once in a while, but like, a more intentional city-wide thing.
Conversations in the Local Voices Network are happening across Madison. If you would like to participate in a conversation or learn how to host a conversation, please visit lvn.org/madison.