Emerald Project empowers youth, Muslim community to combat Islamophobia

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Members of the Muslim community listen to a poem at the 2024 Slam the Islamophobia event. This was the Emerald Project’s fourth annual Slam the Islamophobia event. (Amy Ortiz)

Members of the Muslim community in Utah gathered together on May 18 in efforts to erode the walls of silence built up by Islamophobia at the Emerald Project’s fourth annual Slam the Islamophobia event.

The Emerald Project — a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing justice and liberty for all by inspiring young people — partnered with the Natural History Museum of Utah to host the event in the museum’s Swaner Forum.

Muslim violinist performs at the 2024 Slam the Islamophobia event. This was the Emerald Project’s fourth annual Slam the Islamophobia event. (Amy Ortiz)

Satin Tashnizi, executive director and co-founder of the Emerald Project, said the event’s core objective was to give Muslims in the community the space to express themselves through the art medium of their choice, be it poetry, prose or another form of creative expression.

“We want to provide a safe and open platform for people to communicate how they feel,” Tashnizi said. “Because when you repress speech … intensely over a period of time, people learn to close that part of themselves off.”

Though Muslims of all ages were invited to participate, Tashnizi said the Emerald Project prioritized empowering Muslim youth to share their voices and experiences.

“We’re trying to water the garden of the future by investing in young people,” Tashnizi said.

According to Tashnizi, many young Muslims find themselves straddling two cultures.

“They have their foot in one culture and their other foot in America,” she said.

Auzeen Tashnizi delivers her poem. Her poem was titled “My Hijab.” (Amy Ortiz)

As such, they see and experience injustice. However, they also have the opportunity and responsibility to “answer that injustice” by contributing their talents and abilities to the community, Tashnizi said.

Thus, through these types of events, the Emerald Project aims to “water” and help youth find themselves and their own course of action.

Throughout the event, attendees listened to friends and strangers perform musical pieces, share messages of hope and raise their voices in song and poetry.

“You should be able to put yourself inside someone else’s shoes without having to know every detail,” 15-year-old Auzeen Tashnizi said, addressing attendees just before delivering her poem.

Her poem, titled “My Hijab,” portrayed the “suffocating” experience of navigating others’ judgments and lack of understanding through the eyes of a Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

Through her words, Auzeen Tashnizi invited those listening to challenge their assumptions of others and develop greater empathy.

Rayan Merchant, who participated in several years of training to memorize the Quran, recited the Quran’s 40 Rabbana duas or prayers of supplication for those in hardship.

Rayan Merchant recites the Quran’s 40 Rabbana duas. Merchant memorized the Quran from start to finish. (Amy Ortiz)

“In the present day, Islam is kind of represented as a religion that’s violent and there’s a lot of misrepresentation,” Merchant said. “I just wanted to go up there and … show that we are normal people, too, and we actually care about what’s going on in the world.”

When asked about the importance of the event, Sarah Elhaddi, who participated in the event by reciting a poem, expressed a similar sentiment.

Salma Djalal speaks at the 2024 Slam the Islamophobia event. This was the Emerald Project’s fourth annual Slam the Islamophobia event. (Amy Ortiz)

“Events like these are a great opportunity for us to really showcase what Islam truly is and … showcase that we’re a peaceful people — we live just like you and we’re just here to live and be friendly,” Elhaddi said.

Salma Djalal, whose family left their home in the Republic of Chad, seeking refuge in Egypt and later in the United States, said art and creative expression provide excellent mediums to amplify Muslim voices and address their need for healing.

“So many voices are being silenced and I think a beautiful way to combat that is through art,” Djalal said.

According to Satin Tashnizi, the forces limiting human expression are many, but if “our voice was so insignificant there wouldn’t be so much effort to control, … suppress, … (and) eliminate it.”

“Our inner self and what it is we have to say or sing is the antidote to pain, to fear and to injustice,” Satin Tashnizi said.

Those interested in contributing their voices and abilities to the Emerald Project’s cause can visit its website for more information on future events and how to get involved.

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