Video campaign invites American Muslims to share their normalcy

One of the most interesting things about American Muslims appears to be their sports loyalties.

That’s what many have discussed in filming personal messages for an online campaign aimed at countering anti-Muslim rhetoric in the wake of controversy over a proposed Islamic center in New York City and mosque protests elsewhere. Several dozen videos have been posted so far.

The videos, which American Muslims are invited to record and upload onto the campaign’s website, mostly follow a script: The speakers introduce themselves, give an “interesting fact” about themselves and then launch into a prewritten message about Islam’s teachings. They say that Muslims do not want to impose their religion on others and should not be feared.

The grassroots campaign, called My Faith My Voice, grew out of conversations among a number of Muslim professionals about what they felt was a recent rise in anti-Muslim sentiment.

The campaign was launched this week at a news conference in Washington, D.C., with the unveiling of a public service announcement. The 1-minute video features Muslims of various ethnicities, ages and occupations, including a man wearing a Philadelphia Phillies T-shirt.

Those behind the campaign, which they say is not associated with any organization, are relying heavily on social media to encourage American Muslims to create the short videos about themselves and their faith. They are also raising money to turn the videos into TV ads to reach an audience beyond those visiting the website,

The effort echoes previous campaigns geared toward showing Muslims as regular Americans and making them easier to relate to. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights group, ran a yearlong print ad campaign in 2003 titled Islam in America, and this week announced public service announcements featuring Muslims who were among the first responders on 9/11.

The My Faith My Voice videos are “a chance to speak to Americans without a filter,” said Rabiah Ahmed, 33, who runs a public relations firm in northern Virginia on the outskirts of Washington and is one of the project members. “There’s so many things that we do that people can relate to.”

And it seems what some Muslims most want to share is their love for a sports team.

“That’s very American for you,” Ahmed said with a laugh when asked about the prevalence of sports in the videos. “We could have a recession going on, we could have a war going on, we could have the worst things going but we’ll always have sports.”

When Ahmed recorded her own video for the project, she decided not to describe herself as a Detroit Pistons fan — not wanting to offend those more partial to the Lions and Tigers — and instead declared herself a devoted Detroiter.

Irfan Mehmood, the campaign’s outreach coordinator, had no problem making his loyalties public; he appears in front of a wall covered in New Orleans Saints symbols and gives the team chant: “Who dat say they gonna beat them Saints?”

Sports references abound in a clip by two brothers, both alumni of Virginia Tech and dressed in “Hokies United” T-shirts.

“I’m Awais Sheikh.”

“And I’m Imad Sheikh.”

“And we’re proud members of the Hokie Nation,” Awais Sheikh says as the camera cuts to Imad lifting his head toward the ceiling and yelling, “Go Hokies!”

Awais begins the script, telling viewers that recently they’ve been told what to think about Muslims. The camera moves back to Imad, who interrupts his football video game to ask, “Oh, oh wait, I’ve been playing a lot of Madden lately. What do they say?”

Imad then laughs at the idea that Americans would fear his brother, wondering: Have they ever seen you throw a baseball?”

Another duo, Ahmed and Mae, tag-team the video script as Ahmed tells the viewer that “as huge Saints fans, it kills us to be so close to the Redskins fans, but we do love living in D.C.”

Sports isn’t the only personal detail mentioned in the videos. Most border on the mundane, with participants talking about their home states, children, jobs, and occasionally, their ethnicity. The chosen specifics send the real message of the campaign: Muslims are just as ordinary as other Americans.

“The whole point is to normalize; we’re not trying to sensationalize anything, we’re trying to show the face of Muslims as it is,” said Hassan Ahmad, 34, Rabiah Ahmed’s husband and an immigration attorney who is helping organize the video campaign. “Muslims are like everyone else; we go crazy for March Madness and we like the Super Bowl and we like pizza.”

In a suggested script sent out by Rabiah Ahmed, she says an interesting personal detail might be something like “I’m a Detroit Pistons fan.” When Mehmood forwarded the same e-mail, he changed Pistons to Saints. The script was meant only as a guideline, Mehmood said, but he also noted the universal appeal of sports.

“As an avid sports enthusiast, I would say whenever I meet someone from a different city, [sports is] usually in the top three things discussed,” he said. “It’s a great ice breaker that brings people together.”