Mustenser Qamar knows firsthand the abuse Muslims still have to deal with in society.
Earlier this year, Mustenser was sitting at a Nelson coffee shop during his “I’m Muslim ask me anything” campaign when a passerby went on a Islamophobic rant.
“F*** Islam, go back to your country,” the man shouted.
Mustenser remained calm and offered to have a coffee with the abuser. The person refused, however, and continue spewing vitriol.
Though the ugly incident highlights the need for these campaigns, Mustenser was heartened when a group of Nelson schoolgirls created a barricade between himself and the man.
“As soon as he left, they turned around and said ‘we are really sorry’. That was such a heartwarming moment and shows the majority of New Zealanders hold those moral values, but the fact such thoughts are out there shows there is misunderstanding,” says Mustenser.
A 2017 University of Otago study found that the more avid a news reader someone is, the more likely they are to hold anti-Muslim sentiments.
In a bid to break down these barriers, Mutenser has been travelling the country with fellow Muslims inviting the public to ask them about anything Islam.
He says, for many people the only exposure they get to Islam is what they read in the media, which is often very negative.
“You hear about things that are happening in the Middle East or groups like Isis, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda and, because of that, whether consciously or subconsciously, people begin to develop a negative perception of Islam.”
Mustenser says with the Muslim population in New Zealand being so small, many people have never even met a Muslim before.
“We just want to give that opportunity for people to ask any questions they may have.”
Mustenser and his fellow Muslims were asked an array of questions by the Nelson public, from women’s rights to links with terrorism.
“It’s all about helping to remove those misunderstandings.”
As well as the informal conversations, an exhibition was also held at the Greenmeadows Centre on Saturday.
Among the displays was a complete Te Reo Māori translation of the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an, with almost 50 locals coming through the exhibition.
“We have had a very good response, some came with reservations, but it’s been very positive.
“Understanding is essential to being a more united and peaceful society.”
To find out more about the campaign go to www.trueislam.nz/