In Murfreesboro, A Muslim Youth Group Aims To Fight Hate With Outreach | Nashville Public Radio

In Murfreesboro, A Muslim Youth Group Aims To Fight Hate With Outreach

Nov 21, 2016

Originally, it was just supposed to be a few young Muslims, handing out flowers and notecards to passersby at the Rutherford County Courthouse.


The idea quickly snowballed to more than 100 people from all walks of life. They waved placards, shared doughnuts and scrawled messages of encouragement on the sidewalks.


Even the event's chief organizer, Ayman Yasaan, was surprised.


"I wasn't expecting it, to be honest," he says. "I thought we'd get, like, 30, 40 (people). And seeing all these people here, it means a lot to us."


Many Muslims have been on alert following a divisive election in which they were often targeted by President-elect Donald Trump.


But an event over the weekend on the Public Square in Murfreesboro was designed to encourage religious tolerance.


The gathering was put together by Murfreesboro Muslim Youth, a service organization begun two years ago. The group aims to teach teen and young adult Muslims the importance of volunteer work — both as a religious virtue and as a way of lowering tensions with non-Muslims.


Murfreesboro Muslim Youth's activities have included working with the homeless, partnering with local churches and helping recently arrived immigrants and refugees integrate into Middle Tennessee, from hosting potlucks to participating in home builds.


"We've done a lot, which honestly I'm very proud of," says 16-year-old Sarah Alzabet. "I'm really happy just to be part of this group, personally."


Organizers of the event on Public Square said the turnout shows that kindness has been noticed.


The inspiration came a week earlier. Yasaan, a senior at MTSU studying mechatronics, says he and several were touched when a few Murfreesboro residents turned out to Friday prayers three days after the presidential election to offer their support.


Kenda Shepherd chalks a message supporting religious tolerance on the roadway bordering Murfreesboro's Public Square.
Credit Chas Sisk / WPLN

Yasaan says he asked Murfreesboro Muslim Youth to come to the square to show their thanks. But a Facebook post was quickly shared dozens of times, spreading the word far beyond the organization.


Toi Scott, a Lutheran, says she heard about the event through a friend on Murfreesboro's interfaith council. She brought her two sons to Friday's rally.


"I would say, importantly, it helps our Muslim friends see that they're not alone," she says. "But I also think that it brings awareness to the community, as far as we can come together."


On the evening of the rally, it was difficult to tell whether Muslims outnumbered non-Muslims. They filled the square's eastern side, milling about for 90 minutes. A pair of police officers looked on, but there were no signs of hostility or counter-protests.


Yasaan says the response was inspiring.


"This will just make us work harder," he says. "Just to work more, organize more, do more for our community."