Wearing his emerald-green kurta pajama and turban, Mohammed Rizwan Dad Khan Mandozai wants to show pride in his Indian heritage and Muslim traditions. But the glances and whispers the Las Positas College student notices tell him others might see something different.
“Islam is about peace,” Mandozai, 20, said. “I don’t want people to hate me or anyone’s choices. Learn the real person before you judge them.”
Now, some Tri-Valley cities are encouraging people to do just that. In the past few weeks, the Dublin and Pleasanton city councils proclaimed August as Muslim awareness and appreciation month. Livermore leaders plan to make a similar declaration before it’s time for the 2020 celebrations.
This is welcome news for Mandozai and his older brother, Mohammed Arbaaz Dad Khan Mandozai, who has also faced intolerance and ignorance of cultural differences. He’s had some trouble with those who don’t understand certain traditions, such as the daytime fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“One time, I had been fasting all day and needed to take a break to eat, but my teacher told me he couldn’t make accommodations,” Mandozai, 23, said. “I didn’t complain, because my education is important.”
The Mandozai brothers came to the Tri-Valley from Hyderabad, India four years ago to continue their studies. They attend the Muslim Community Center - East Bay in Pleasanton and are pleased to see their contributions to the area gaining acceptance.
“People are talking more about our culture,” the elder Mandozai said. “I’m feeling more positivity.”
The two brothers are among the nearly 250,000 Muslims living in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, according to the nonprofit Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
Sameena Usman, a government relations coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said about 90,000 now call Alameda County home. “The Muslim population has grown in the Tri-Valley, and the mosques are overflowing and expanding,” she said.
Dublin and Pleasanton’s proclamations follow the state, which in 2015 approved House Resolution 59 to recognize California’s Muslim community. After its passage, CAIR reached out to Bay Area towns to encourage them to make their own proclamations.
The first year, one city council honored the request, Usman said. Four more followed the next year.
This year, she counts 15 so far. Alameda County also plans to participate with its announcement set for Sept. 24.
“These proclamations show that our elected officials are in solidarity with the Muslim community,” Usman said. “And it means a lot to us given the divisiveness in our country right now.”
CAIR offers free legal services to Muslim-Americans experiencing bullying or hate crimes. The nonprofit also works with elected officials to encourage public policies that benefit the Islamic community.
The proclamations are particularly important in these difficult times, Usman said. “One of (President Trump’s) first executive orders was to ban Muslims from coming into the country, and that was traumatic for our community.”
She wonders if it was the onslaught of negative political rhetoric and anti-immigration policies that spurred the recent surge of inclusivity.
Connect and Conquer
The Dublin City Council in its Aug. 20 proclamation asked residents to extend the respect and camaraderie every American deserves to Muslims.
“While I haven’t heard of any negative incidents against Muslims in our community, I wouldn’t doubt that some Muslim Dubliners have encountered prejudice,” Councilman Shawn Kumagai said. “This simple gesture is a way for us to reaffirm that we as a community stand united with them.”
The City Council in neighboring Pleasanton made a similar proclamation on Sept. 3. “Our city celebrates the diversity of all community groups and looks forward to the continued opportunity to provide such recognitions,” Pleasanton spokeswoman Cindy Chin said.
People across the Tri-Valley are now coming up with ways to honor the contributions of Muslims next year in August. Suggestions include starting an annual Muslim festival and sharing culture with Arabic art, Afghani music, Yemeni coffee and henna painting.
The lineup could also include training sessions such as those CAIR held this summer in the Milpitas and Santa Cruz areas. More than 2,000 people came to learn how to help if they see someone being harassed or discriminated against, Usman said.
An 'Islamophobia' Antidote
Las Positas College student Maryum Harhara, who attends the Tracy Islamic Center, hopes to see events where people can ask questions about the religion, too. She said Muslims in her hometown have faced “Islamophobia.” The 19-year-old was volunteering at her local masjid when she learned someone had thrown a Molotov cocktail at the mosque.
“If Tracy were to hold events for the whole town to partake in, then it might allow others to feel more comfortable around us,” she said. “After all, we are human.”
The Mandozai brothers see emphasizing similarities, rather than differences, as a way to relate with others, too. They aren’t trying to sway anyone to their religion, but they would like their traditions to be better understood.
The older Mandozai suggests non-Muslims visit a local mosque to learn the answers to questions they might be curious about, such as why Muslims don’t drink wine. While newcomers could find restrictions like taking off their shoes or covering their heads unusual, they might broaden their perspective by seeing how Muslims purify themselves and observe religious holidays.
“If we could share with everyone in English, and not just Arabic, what our religion is all about, people could sit down, learn and find some peace together,” he said.
Usman and other activists plan to keep working toward that harmony. They hope to show communities how to appreciate and find strength in their diversity, rather than letting differences rip them apart.
“When you think of a fabric that has been woven together, you can see the beauty of all the colors,” she said. “And in a mixed salad, you should still be able to taste and appreciate each individual ingredient.”