CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina - Facing a growing bigotry following the 9/11 attacks, American Muslims are reaching out to the wider community to correct misconceptions about themselves and their faith.
Islam was put in the spotlight in a bad light, Zainab Baloch, a senior in psychology and president of North Carolina State's Muslim Student Association (MSA), told Technician Online website.
I grew up in the America where, as Muslims, we were required to explain ourselves and what exactly we were.
Our parents never had to deal with this type of backlash.
Formed 20 years ago to represent growing number of Muslim students on campus, MSA was getting a bigger role in the post-9/11 era.
It has been working hard over the past decade to provide programs for people of all backgrounds to meet with other Muslims on and off campus in an effort to correct misconceptions about Islam.
Courses were offered to students about the religion that is adopted by 1.5 million people around the world.
It makes me very happy to see that the Islam classes I'm taking on campus are full of students who've never been exposed to the subject, and that the interfaith events that MSA holds are full of people as well, said Muneeb Abbasi, a senior in business administration.
It shows me that there are people out there who want to learn more about our religion.
The best way to have any sort of interfaith dialogue is only through good education, and I think everyone should be well educated on religion, regardless of what faith you are, he said.
Since 9/11, US Muslims have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.
A recent US survey had revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
A Gallup poll had also found that the majority of US Muslims are patriot and loyal to their country and are optimistic about their future.
But Muslim outreach efforts to correct their faith's image were facing obstacles amid growing hate crimes.
Every time I fly I am randomly selected to be screened, Baloch told Technician Online.
When we came back from Pakistan last year from visiting my mom's family, we were told to wait about five hours before we could enter our country.
Baloch recalls that people she saw being randomly selected for screening were of Arab or South Asian descent.
This event really disappointed me because the way we were treated and handled felt like we were some type of criminals and that we didn't belong to our country, Baloch said.
Media bias was also adding to the woes of American Muslims.
[The media] tends to tag the term terrorist' to many Muslim faces and names so easily, sophomore biological sciences major Yusor Abu-Salha said, citing a recent controversy about the building of a mosque near the 9/11 site as an example.
They show what will give America a certain impression, and they hide what they can deal without. They will show what gets their ratings up, and they use fear to do it.
A similar controversy erupted two years ago when controversial pastor Terry Jones said he would burn the Noble Qur'an on the 9/11 anniversary.
What people didn't realize is that burning the Qur'an is actually one of the most respectful ways of disposing of the book," Abbasi said.
"Obviously, his intent wasn't that, but the way people around the world reacted was insane, and that's why the media had a field day with it. If the pastor hadn't received as much attention as he did, the issue would've died out long before it actually did.
Abu-Salha, however, still hopes for a less sensationalized future.
I think we're on the road to recovery," Abu-Salha said."Hopefully one day the actual practicing Muslims will be recognized instead of those who have hijacked the religion.