Celebrities take this year's European Islamophobia summit by storm

The European Islamophobia Summit took place this week during Ramadan

Nabila Pathan
Nabila Pathan - Special to Al Arabiya English
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What does Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, ex-One Direction star Zayn Malik, women's Basketball player Indira Kaljo all have in common? Their personal stories have been celebrated for helping to challenge Islamophobia, at this year's European Islamophobia Summit in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

These names were celebrated during discussions at the summit, for being part of a growing number of international cultural personalities who are undeterred in identifying with their Muslim identity in the face of growing Islamophobic sentiments, especially in Europe and USA.

Irrespective of some of these names being exposed to different levels of anti-Muslim sentiment, they have proven to have continued support from their loyal fanbase of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Almost 5,000 signed a petition demanding an apology from Bill Maher, the American comedian and political commentator, who likened Zayn to a terrorist last year. On Twitter, #RespectforZayn became a trending hashtag.

Nadiya Hussain's fanbase have been unflinched in the wake of her online Islamophobic threats. She's proven her confidence to stand resolute about her identity despite the online trolls and continued to talk openly about her Muslim and Bangladeshi heritage.

With personal storytelling highlighted as a means of helping to combat Islamophobic sentiment during the summit, the award winning playwright, Wajahat Ali, explains how the likes of Nadiya and Zayn have helped to push public perception away from Islamophobic stereotypes like "RAGE BOY - an angry, bellicose, bearded, dark skinned savage from the Middle East who hates the West, women, Jews and deodorant."

"When you throw in Zayn Malik or Nadiya Hussain as protagonists it totally disrupts this narrative. Their respective successes and their embrace by a global community of fans, including mostly non-Muslims, proves that a person of color, who self identifies as Muslim, can be the protagonist of the British and Western narrative. Furthermore, they are admired and adulated by communities for their talents, not rejected due to their "ethnic names" and religious identity. Not only do they signal role models for Muslims and people of color who often feel they are ignored by mainstream media, they prove that an emerging, modern community is also immune to hate, bigotry and fear mongering."

Sportswoman, Indira Kaljo, who is originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia, took part in the summit this year, during Ramadan, to share her own experience of overturning a ban on headscarves during the competition under Federation International Basketball Association (FIBA), Indira started the "FIBA allow hijab" campaign, and received 70,000 signatures on a corresponding petition to support the initiative.

After speaking about storytelling as a powerful tool in combatting Islamophobia, she spoke to Al Arabiya English to explain her own personal approach in trying to make the headscarf an acceptable form of head covering in international women's basketball.

"I use passion to share my story since many people know what it means to be passionate about something. I find a common ground with people and get them to support this issue since most people understand and love sport, so this is how I've been able to get them to support my fight for hijab in basketball play."

Other prominent names who also shared their personal stories as examples of challenging Islamophobia, at this year's summit, included Dr Rana Dajani, creator of the "We Love Reading" programme and Dr. Naif Al- Mutawa, creator of THE 99, the first group of comic superheros born of an Islamic archetype.

At the Summit, Haroon Moghul, who's a senior fellow at Center for Global policy, explains how personal storytelling can create powerful role models against anti-Muslim sentiments:

"Muslims across the west face the same kinds of challenges, but the reality seems to get uglier. "At times like this we need to know that there are people who stood up, pushed back, and won. They are heroes because they did all three of these."

The first European Islamophobia Summit took place this week during Ramadan, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, convening international academics, cultural artists, politicians and activists to explore policy solutions to the rise in Islamophobic bigotry and Anti-Muslim hate crime in Europe.

A Final Declaration, agreed on by the Summit’s 19 participating NGO’s stated “We are particularly concerned that the current period of political and economic uncertainty within Europe, especially given Britain's Referendum decision to leave the EU and the rise of far-right extremism across Europe, will only further exacerbate a climate of divisiveness, fear and bigotry.”

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