HUNDREDS OF students packed the library of the Academy at Palumbo High School in South Philly for yesterday's forum on Islamophobia, and supported their Muslim classmates with an outpouring of fervent finger snaps.
Speaking against irrational fear of Muslims, Sofia Ali-Khan, a public-interest lawyer and a second-generation Pakistani American, described her open letter on Facebook, "Dear non-Muslim Allies," that went viral because, she said, "I think people were relieved to see other people saying, 'It's really gone too far. ' "
The guest speaker for the event, Ali-Khan said it was clear decades ago that "the next boogie man after the Cold War was going to be Muslims."
She said non-Muslims could help defeat the fear and hatred by behaving decently and compassionately toward Muslims in public.
"I believe that in the end, love wins," she said. "We get to choose how long" that takes.
Imdad Alvee, a 10th grader, said he was shocked when he heard a close non-Muslim friend he had known for five years characterize all Muslims as terrorists whose "main goal is to destroy the world."
Alvee told him, "I am Muslim."
After a long, pained silence, his friend said, "Alvee, forgive me. I made a mistake."
After studying Islam for the first time in his life, Alvee's friend converted.
"He's a Muslim now," Alvee said. "Prays five times a day."
Recounting a double dose of prejudice, 10th-grader Adham Albarkawi said he and his family were in a convenience store, speaking Arabic, when they saw a man eyeing them, then telling his friend, "I'm tired of these damn Mexicans sneaking over the border."
Albarkawi said that when he identified himself and his family as Muslims, customers moved away "like parting the Red Sea."
Ndeen Al-Barqawi, an 11th grader whose family came here from the Palestinian territories, said, "I find it ironic that when someone calls you a terrorist, you're the one who's feeling scared.
"You're not accepted here, and you feel that," she said. "It eats at you."
Mariama Gackou, an African American ninth grader who has been wearing a traditional Muslim head covering since she was little, said she had been subjected to "a basketful of racial and religious slurs from other kids."
"They asked, 'Oh, do you have hair? Oh, are you bald? Do you shower with that on?'
"In the sixth grade, they nicknamed me 'the Terrorist,' " she said. The name stuck for years.
Albarkawi said Islamophobia was especially strange because Islam shares some core tenets with Christianity and Judaism, including the belief in one God and the Adam and Eve origin story.
"We all have different ways of praying to the same God," he said.
Gackou said, "They tell you in church to respect your neighbors."
She looked around the table at her fellow Muslims, smiled, and said, "We are your neighbors."