Aneelah Afzali speaks about her experience as an American Muslim woman at Trinity Lutheran Church in Everett on Oct. 24 during a speaking tour with pastor Terry Kyllo around Western Washington. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Aneelah Afzali speaks about her experience as an American Muslim woman at Trinity Lutheran Church in Everett on Oct. 24 during a speaking tour with pastor Terry Kyllo around Western Washington. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Speaking tour aims to overcome misperceptions about Muslims

Aneelah Afzali and pastor Terry Kyllo met with a couple of dozen people at Trinity Lutheran Church.

EVERETT — Aneelah Afzali left behind her legal career to help others better understand Islam.

She believes misconceptions about her religion have made some people afraid. Those misunderstandings have fueled hate, she said.

Afzali and pastor Terry Kyllo met with a couple of dozen people at Trinity Lutheran Church in Everett last month. Their visit was a part of a tour for the American Muslim Empowerment Network, an initiative through the Muslim Association of Puget Sound.

Afzali shared her story, one that resonates with many whose American and Muslim identities go hand-in-hand.

She was raised in a big family. Her father at times worked two or three jobs. They owned businesses where Afzali spent her time after classes.

In elementary school, Afzali and her sister signed up for a talent show. They hadn’t picked a talent to perform, but they knew they wanted the prize, an ice-cream social. The sisters wore matching pink and purple outfits and sang “America the Beautiful.”

They got their ice cream.

Afzali was first in her family to graduate college and later went to Harvard Law School. She remembered carrying a stack of books in the library when a man noticed her hijab.

“A 6-foot man was scared of little 5-foot, 3-inch me,” Afzali said. “That’s why Islamophobia is irrational.”

She didn’t always wear a hijab. Afzali started after hearing stories of drivers rolling down their car windows and shouting at women wearing head scarves. She wanted to show support.

Afzali pointed to a growing trend of hate crimes against Muslims.

In September, someone sprayed yellow and black paint on a mosque in Monroe. The graffiti spelled out a vulgar phrase. Another mosque in Lynnwood had a similar problem after Sept. 11. Paint was doused on their sign out front.

During Afzali’s visit in Everett, she asked people sitting in the pews: “Who finds love, kindness and comfort from faith?”

Nearly everyone raised their hand.

“So do Muslims.”

A lesson in both the Quran and the Bible teaches the importance of treating others with love and kindness, Kyllo said.

He resigned from two churches so that he could dedicate his time to the American Muslim Empowerment Network. Kyllo said his community, and he, were far too quiet.

“As bad as things are right now, we have a possibility to write history with our actions and inactions,” Afzali said. ”Please don’t be silent. Make new friends.”

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com.

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