Muslim teen easing anti-Muslim fears with dinners hosted in her home.

For many Muslims living in the United States life has not been easy. Each time there is an attack, whether domestic or foreign, American Muslims have had their neighbors look at them differently as if they were responsible for those attacks. 2017 has been a particularly hard year, with the current administration promoting discrimination. The needless Muslim lives lost and the stigma Muslims face has led many of them to reach out to society for understanding . Fifteen-year-old Yusra Rafeeqi is one such Muslim.

Yusra is a high school sophomore who lives in Palo Alto, CA. Her family has been living in the U.S. for three decades, but Yusra faces Islamophobia too. One time she was called a terrorist in school. At the Palo Alto Duck Pond, people will move away from her. Yusra has also seen her family go through the same thing. Yusra’s sister was harassed while playing at a park with her 1 year-old by a group of men. Yusra said the men had approached her sister and “called her a terrorist and ‘rag head,’” and said “her daughter would grow up to be part of ISIS.”

Yusra recalls many occasions when people would honk their horns at her mother, Khalida Rafeeqi. According to Yusra, they were honking because her mother was wearing the traditional full Muslim garment, an abaya.

Yusra remarked she felt bad each time someone profiled her for being Muslim even though she knew it was not because they hated her personally. “To me, the issue is that people do not understand Muslims,” the fifteen-year-old said. That is why she decided to change people’s perception of Islam.

In early May, Yusra created a Facebook page called Dine with a Muslim Family. Understanding Muslims was the best way to stop Islamophobia, Yusra affirmed. What better way to do so than to invite strangers into her home?

On May 4, Yusra and her father stood on a street in their hometown and carried two signs. One read “Have Dinner with a Muslim Family!” and the other “Stop Islamophobia. Dine with my Muslim Family”. The town responded warmly to those two inviting strangers into their homes. People stopped to talk to Yusra, many commending the initiative. Others just wanted to say “hello.”

The following night after starting the campaign, the Rafeeqi family hosted two young men who had been visiting at Stanford University. The two 23-year-olds, Alex Radelich and Dalton Lemert, were welcomed into the household with traditional Pakistani dishes. The pair later wrote on their Facebook page that they had enjoyed the visit. “At the beginning, we talked about serious stuff ― religion, kindness, cultural differences, traditions, discrimination, and humanity. By the end, we were just a bunch of friends laughing together. Food has a magical way of doing that.” the post read.

Radelich and Lemert co-founded Explore Kindness to promote the virtue, and they endorsed Yusra in her campaign.

It seems that Yusra Rafeeqi’s initiative is paying off. Since the first visit, the California teen said, she has hosted one other party in her home. She is teaching more and more people about her religion so that people can stop fearing Islam. Yusra is also correcting some misconceptions about her faith. She wishes to let people know that Muslim women are not always oppressed.

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