Adam Saleh, Sheikh Akbar and Abdullah Ghuman are three Brooklyn, New York-born best friends who run a vlog on YouTube called TrueStoryASA. Watch any one of their weekly videos, which averages 20,000 to 25,000 views, and you'll find yourself immersed in the random adventures of boyhood: riding shopping carts in the Staten Island Mall parking lot, slap fights that end when the first guy gives in, a bevy of pranks on the unsuspecting and unrelenting ribbing of each other. In other words, the boys are chronicling a day in the life of the average American teen.
And that's the point: Adam, Sheikh and Abdullah are your average American teens. But they, like many Muslim-Americans in a post 9/11 world, have been made to increasingly feel like they're on the outside. Unwilling to accept such alienation, and firmly believing in the intrinsic goodness of people, the trio set out on a simple proposition: they wanted their fellow Americans to "Meet a Muslim Person" (watch video below).
"We were filming a prank video and a guy approached us and asked us where we're from," Saleh tells Samaritanmag. The 19-year-old has a Yemeni background while Akbar's family is from Bangladesh. "We said we're Muslims and he told us that we're the first Muslim people that he's ever met. [The idea] clicked in our head. We decided we should go around and show who we are."
The trio created a sign that read "Meet a Muslim Person" and headed to Union Square Park to film their interactions. The video, which has over 660,000 views on YouTube since its April 24 release, is overwhelmingly positive: people from all ages and ethnicities approached the guys, asking to take their picture, exchanging As-salamu alaykum -- a traditional Muslim greeting that means "peace be upon you" -- or simply shaking their hands.
"We learned that there are a lot of people who didn't know a lot about Islam," says Saleh, who studies Criminal Justice and plans to become a lawyer; an ambition shared by Akbar. Ghuman is in pre-med at New York University. "They would only look at what's in the media; they wouldn't look at how Muslims really are outside of the TV screen. We wanted to show the real sides of Muslims."
Akbar recalls an incident in high school that occurred when the class was assigned to write about world topics. He didn't know what issue to explore but his classmates decided for him: they mockingly suggested that he write about terrorism. Saleh mentions a friend he had in junior high who assumed he was Hispanic. When the friend realized Saleh was Muslim, he ended the friendship.
Even the "Meet a Muslim Person" project wasn't immune to displays of prejudice. Toward the end of the video, a passerby comments that he killed Muslims while in the army, so he certainly didn't need to meet them.
"I couldn't believe what I heard because he was really proud that he killed Muslims in the army," recalls SaIeh. "I went up to him to see if he was going to say it in front of the camera. I didn't want to go up to him and start a fight. He ended up cursing me and calling me the 'F-word.' I called him a 'racist prick' which I know I should have never called him, but he said, 'Yeah, that's right,' so I guess he was agreeing."
Despite the challenges that have faced the three Muslim teens, one is struck by the unflagging optimism they display in their vlogs. Alongside the goofing around, there are moments of poignancy that serve as reminders of our common humanity.
Last week, the group posted a video on TrueStoryASA called "Make the Homeless Smile," which already has more than 370,000 views. They walked the city streets gifting fresh fruit, bottled water, money and used clothing to the homeless. The group's intention was to simply "make the less fortunate happy and smile" but they also wanted to call attention to our tendency to treat the homeless as an invisible population. Scene after scene features mutual hugs, handshakes and smiles as some of the recipients seemed genuinely grateful to not only receive aid but recognition.
Adam Saleh hugs a Make the Homeless Smile recipient.
The trio has plans for a follow-up to "Meet a Muslim Person." Recognizing the tension between Islamic and Jewish communities, they'd like to visit a predominantly Jewish, New York neighborhood and chronicle their interactions.
However the outcome, Akbar is confident in the trio's mission: "We've noticed that our videos can change point of views in many people's minds."
* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.
<strong>Salaam alaikum: </strong> "My wife, Aminah, and I have been vegan for around 15 years. Our reasoning was primarily for animal rights and eco-justice. In the late 1990s, both us were deep into the hardcore/punk music scenes and became straight-edge, and eventually, vegan. When we met, I was already studying Islam after being opened to the religion by hardcore bands that had Muslim members, like Vegan Reich and Racetraitor. We both converted shortly after meeting 13 years ago. At a first glance, Islam and veganism don't seem compatible, especially with the sacrifice on Hajj. We did discover vegetarian traditions within the Muslim ummah and by following the example of Shaikh M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, a vegetarian Sufi saint from Sri Lanka that lived in Philadelphia in the '70s and '80s. I do not consider meat-eating to be haram; after all, our Prophet and his family ate meat sparingly. Some Muslims use hadith from them to say vegetarianism is not recommended, though I tend to see those sayings in a contextual light. It was a time and place where vegetarianism was potentially dangerous to one's health and well-being. We also have traditions that indicate Jesus was vegetarian. And lots of hadith extolling the great rewards with Allah for showing compassion and mercy to suffering animals. The modern meat industry just isn't sustainable, nor does it conform to Islamic ethical standards. Even the so-called "halal" meat industry has become so mechanized that it violates any sense of the ethical treatment of animals and recognition of their rights as the creatures of God. We now have two boys that we are raising vegan, in hopes of bringing new generation up aware of the issues of animal and earth justice, and the relationship between those issues and that of human social justice and belief in "One God Who Created all and bestowed His Trust on the Children of Adam."
"I love the taste of meat, the smell of it sizzling. Tandoori chicken tikka is my favorite food. I have no problem eating meat if it was the primary source of nutrition/protein for my survival, just as was the case in the harsh desert condition of the Prophet's time. But being aware of the suffering the animals endure in the meat industry (and environmental degradation and health reasons) I can't help but be a compassionate eater, choosing a healthier, plant-based diet for the past six years and a vegan diet for the past three. As a Muslim, I cannot see how torture and killing of animals simply to feed the addiction of Muslim meat eaters could be justified when in the Qur'an we are told that God has spread out the earth for them (55:10), and they form communities (ummah) exactly like us (6:38) who praise God in their own way (24:41). Knowing full well that the Prophet was sent as a mercy to all worlds (including the animal world) I seriously doubt he would have consumed any of the meats that are marketed as "halal" in our time."
"There are many reasons for a Muslim to consider a plant-based diet. We need to think about how eating a lot of meat effects our health, how the animals are treated, and the addition of hormones and antibiotics to the animal's diet. The argument for a plant-based diet that is most convincing to me is that we can feed a lot more people with the same amount of resources. This is definitely something that Muslims should be concerned about. Is my consumption of meat using resources that could have been used to feed a lot more people than just me?"
"Qur'an and hadith both make it clear that creation is to be respected, protected and preserved. The current state of the vast majority of meat and dairy production worldwide is clearly contrary to these principles, in letter and in spirit. Even supposedly "sustainable" meat is clearly unsustainable and wasteful when looked at in the light of exploding population growth. The prophets may have eaten meat occasionally, but what and how they ate is a far cry from what and how most of us eat today, and I believe that our behaviour as Muslims should reflect our responsibility to the world today." <em>Ezra has also penned an article for Herbivore and Islamic Concern on the <a href="http://www.islamicconcern.com/bismillah2.asp" target="_hplink">Islamic ethical dilemma of consuming meat</a>.</em>
"My name is Momina Foster and I am a vegan. You might be surprised to know that I actually first thought about becoming vegetarian while visiting my uncle in Pakistan. Although everywhere around him there was the smell of kebabs cooking and popular desi dishes, he had too much compassion to partake in the suffering. Now, I had never met a Pakistani vegetarian. I had the impression that vegetables and rice was peasant cuisine. However this same uncle fed and sheltered homeless animals and families. His name was Ahmad. His beautiful traits made such an impression on me. Then I began to read Gandhi, Buddhism even Sufism books on compassion. Now that I am vegan, I still get messages in my inbox about how wrong I am or how people pray for me because I'm choosing to be vegan. Perhaps they would prefer that i suffer the calf for its mothers milk or boil crustaceans alive for the fresh taste of pain. All I know is the sweetest birds will fly onto my shoulders and animals around me sometimes just run to me. Perhaps looking for some kindness and love. Perhaps seeing my heart. I know I'm making the right choice by God."
"There is nothing in Islam that requires consuming meat to be an obligatory act. Today I see most Muslims and non-Muslims consume meat on a daily basis, but this is a cultural tradition and not a religious belief. Our Prophet was sent as a Mercy to All the Worlds (Quran 21:107) and most scholars estimate that he was what could be considered a "semi-vegetarian." Evidence for this can be found in Malik's al Muwatta. As Muslims we must do our best to emulate the Prophetic Sunnah, but we must also not cherry pick. The Prophet rarely ate meat, why do we eat meat every day? The Prophet didn't consume eggs and milk from animals raised on giant industrialized farms, where the animals are injected with hormones and medicine to keep them just healthy enough to keep producing. The Prophet didn't allow baby chicks by the thousands to be sent into a grinder while still alive as is standard practice of the egg industry." <em>Zakariya also runs the facebook page <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/181900761828828/" target="_hplink">Muslim Vegetarians</a></em>
"I know Pakistanis are mostly stereotyped for not having a plant-based diet, but for me it's a very interesting thing as I have Bengali roots. So our food, or the combination of food we include in our daily diet, is not heavily based on meat at all, but it's mostly vegetable and seafood with side of meat. I fell into a pure vegetarian lifestyle when I first started university, as all of my friends were vegan and queer. I am very conscious of people's dietary needs, as I grew up in a very diverse community. Being at university and being among a very diverse group of people, every time I wanted to host a potluck or dinner I had to be sure that I had something vegan, otherwise no one would be able to enjoy food, and that's no fun for anyone. So when I started doing that, I realized that there are very healthy and different alternatives to meat-based proteins and I can actually enjoy the same food I like. After exploring and trying different things I got into it, and its been a long time now since I have been into vegetable-based diet. Mostly people complain that a pure green diet can lead to physical weakness, etc., but honestly, as long as you eat enough, you should be fine. I am also a runner and it has never affected my stamina."
"I became a vegetarian in the 1980s while I was a young adult. Some do it for health reasons, but I did it because I was so sensitive to the suffering of animals. Whether cows or fish, I couldn't get past the sense of guilt that an animal had unnecessarily died to become food. It took me a couple years to make the complete transition and I would like to become vegan, but that is more complicated in terms of getting the necessary nutrients while on such a tight budget. When I began to look into Islam six years ago, I noticed some considered vegetarianism haram because the prophet, pbuh, ate meat. As time went on, I learned more and more about the prophet's relationship with animals. He cared very deeply about their well-being. There are hadith, which show that kindness to animals can lead to forgiveness of a lifetime of sins. Others show the Prophet teaching the ummah respect for all the creatures of the earth. It is no wonder since the Quran says Muhammad was sent not only as a mercy to human beings, but to all creatures (Quran 21:107)."
"I was working in the Middle East and the food served to us every day had at least one non-vegetarian dish and was also was priced high. I had two reasons to abandon non-vegetarianism. One was that the heat the non-veg food was making me lethargic and I was gaining weight fast (I was almost 100 kilograms then). The second reason was that I wanted to save money, and vegetarianism is economical. The first few months were very tough as I was always tempted to eat non-veg, which I did on off days, but slowly my determination grew to be 100 per cent. Since June 2007, I have not consumed even once anything non-vegan. Not even eggs. It has helped me curb my lethargy and control my weight which at its peak was 100 kilograms -- now I weigh 80 kilograms. I think vegetarianism is healthier and more economical. In India, people who buy two kilograms of mutton twice per week could purchase vegetables for the entire week. Cruelty against the cattle and the poultry animals even before they are slaughtered and the way in which they are stored and transported to the retailers can also be a good reason to switch to vegetarianism.
When people first see me they're confused because I'm a Muslim that speaks Spanish and Arabic, which leaves them wondering what nationality I belong to. I politely answer their questions and then I tell them that I'm vegan, just to add to their confusion. Most people don't think much of it except for other fellow Muslims. Most of them respond by citing that Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) said that one must not to go more than 40 days without eating even a little bit of meat, and many scholars have stated that to do so is makruh or highly discouraged by Islamic standards. To this I'll either smile, nod and/or shrug politely, or respond with a hadith from Imam Ali (pbuh): "Do not make your stomach a graveyard." Whether butchered the halal way or through factory farming, animals are sentient beings and suffer pain. I always convey this point when talking to someone about being vegan, not to mention the health benefits of cutting out meat from one's diet. My conversion to Islam took time because I wanted to do research to see if it was right for me. I can advocate for a vegan lifestyle until I'm blue in the face, but it takes a strong will to take those facts I present and make a change, whether it's for health or ethical reasons.
<strong>El-Farouk Khaki:</strong> "I love animals. Even the ones I don’t like. I have recently stopped eating meat and poultry because I think it is the proper adab (etiquette) for an ethical person. I have always understood that the foremost rationale for the halal method of sacrifice is to prevent cruelty and minimize the animal’s pain, suffering and fear. Current industrial production and farming methods, however, epitomize cruelty and suffering to the animal. What good is a merciful death if the animal has never known a merciful life? If the animal’s death is simply a release from a brutal life of cruelty and pain, then no matter of incantation and prayer could make its flesh permissible for me. The inscription of the Shahada on an automated blade chopping away at the heads and other body parts of terrified chickens and other animals cannot make the flesh permissible. A battery chicken can never be halal. <strong>Troy Jackson:</strong> The way animals are treated and killed for our collective consumption is disrespectful. I see the same glint in the eyes of other animals as I see in my lovely cats eyes, therefore I cannot eat meat. I choose not to eat meat because I cannot take the responsibility of killing an animal for my food. I would rather take on the responsibility of growing a garden.
Why should a Muslim consider a vegetarian or vegan diet? At this point in human history, the greater-than-ever consumption of meat by humans is a significant contributor to the great stress our burgeoning population has applied to the Earth's biosphere. The large amounts of water and grain required for the mass-scale meat production of modernity are overburdening our natural resources. If we all ate primarily plant-based diets, we could make significant gains toward restoring equilibrium in the natural environment, as well as reduce some of the extremes of human poverty. Further, the large-scale methods used to produce animal-based food today are often extremely cruel to animals -- from male baby chicks being tossed by the thousands alive into grinders to animals spending their entire lives confined in tiny, filthy pens. The ethical/moral obligations toward animals are clearly not being met. Eating meat is halal in Islam, but one must take care that not only is the slaughter halal, but that all aspects of the treatment of animals are moral. If one would find it sinful or abhorrent to treat an animal the way these animals are often treated, then one should not give tacit consent by consuming animals treated these ways. We must be better stewards of our planet for our children and all life on Earth, and eating a plant-based diet is one significant way to do that.
I'm a B777 captain and I found out about the source and the process of the aircraft food preparation. Meat, for instance, comes from a dead animal, days old. It's stored or frozen with preservatives, loaded on the aircraft hours later, and cooked once again when airborne. It might taste good because of our "conditioned upbringing" and the "camouflage of spices." But it has hardly any nutritional value. Within months of changing my food consumption to vegetarianism, my thought processes changed, my sleep patterns got better and deeper, I served society and helped people, managed my human emotions with a smile and fell sick less often. It's been eight years now, and combined with some yoga, prayers, and good food (fruits and veggies) I've not fallen ill or taken any antibiotics. The power of discrimination as humans, coexisting with nature, god, universal consciousness -- whatever we consider a higher purpose -- is there within all of us. A spark of inquiry is needed, and if we deepen our roots, broaden our vision, we will guarantee a better world. A pollution-free, stress-free and violence-free society. A future better for our species and an inter-dependent existence as an earthling.
In the past, I experimented with regular vegetarianism for ethical reasons, but I always thought being vegan sounded too extreme. Last year, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that her cholesterol had gone down 30 points after switching to an all plant-based diet. I was intrigued at the idea that simply cutting out animal products could have such a profound, positive affect on her health. I’d been having some health issues and wondered how it would affect me, so I started a six-week experiment last November where I switched to a <a href="http://sixveganweeks.blogspot.ca/" target="_hplink">strict vegan diet and blogged about it</a>. I was truly surprised by how easy the transition was, and how quickly my body responded. It’s been six months and I have no desire to go back to my old way of eating. I feel great, I look better, and I rest easy at night knowing that my diet is ethical and cruelty-free.
I chose a vegan diet mainly because of the countless health benefits associated with it, and that it was also more logical to obtain nutrients straight from the source rather than filter it through another living being. I also felt compassion towards the rights and welfare of animals after seeing footage from factory farming and animal testing labs as well as various other mistreatment which animals receive. I knew for a fact that I wanted to be a vegan even if it did mean being unhealthy. A vegan diet is healthy for the individual, moral for the animals, globally sustainable to the point it can completely eradicate poverty and is environmentally friendly.
I’ve always abhorred violence and oppression. Being brown and Muslim, I fielded my fair share of racism and violence directed towards me and my people. And I could never stand seeing others go through the same thing. Being raised Muslim, I learned about true compassion, responsibility to your fellow beings, gentleness, taking care of one another, and love. Not just for humans but for non-human animals, too, our fellow inhabitants on this earth and this journey. I remember seeing animal slaughter and experimentation videos for the first time and how it shook me to my soul. The level of cruelty, exercise of power, selfishness and utter lack of compassion went against everything I was raised to believe. I never drew a distinction between human and nonhuman animal suffering. We all feel pain, we all want to live free, no matter what species we are. All the arguments that are used to support oppression of nonhuman animals have been used before to oppress other people, mostly people of colour. "Might makes right, they’re not as smart as us, because I physically can means I physically should." When we look at those justifications used to enslave, dominate and oppress other humans, it makes me sick. Those same reasons used to exploit non-human animals should make us just as outraged. True compassion, love and strength is measured by how you treat those who are completely powerless against you and can do nothing for you. <em>Bina Ahmad - Public Defender, New York City</em>
Follow Samaritanmag.com on Twitter: www.twitter.com/samaritanmag