Muslim Community Prospering in Arizona Despite Hateful Political Sentiment

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The Islamic community has grown and prospered in Arizona even with fervent anti-Muslim sentiment across the United States, says the publisher of the newspaper serving metro Phoenix's Muslim community.

“I think the Muslim community is resilient,” says Wafa Unus, the 28-year-old owner of the Arizona Muslim Voice. “Despite very well-publicized rallies and incidents outside of mosques [here], the community has been stellar and has come together." 

Muslim businesses — including Islamic clothing stores, galleries, and markets — continue to find success catering to local residents. And the number of Islamic mosques has nearly doubled nationwide in the past decade, including in Arizona.

In the past 10 years, the Muslim population has grown by more than 100,000 to about 120,000 people in Arizona. And that number is expected to get much larger.

By 2030, the world's Muslim population is expected to increase 35 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. In the United States, the number of Muslims is slated to burgeon to 6.2 million in the next two decades.

Yet Muslims in America and Arizona continue to confront a culture of racism and prejudice.

Nearly a quarter of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Muslims, according to a March 2015 poll from YouGov. Recent Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino has only seemed to create more tension.

"It's ignorance, it's fear, it's misunderstanding that's [fueling the racism]," says Unus, adding that the majority of Muslims are just as troubled as those outside the faith by the terrorism attacks linked to their religion. 

The most recent spree of hate has been led by Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump. The billionaire real estate mogul has been increasingly critical of those who follow the Islamic faith. Just days ago, a Muslim woman was ejected from a Trump rally for silently protesting his anti-Islamic rhetoric. 

“There are a lot of people that really do believe that Trump is serving some sort of greater purpose in the political process,” says Ian Punnett, a journalist who writes a monthly column for the Muslim Voice. "It’s always disappointing to me that people can’t see through his bluster.”

Unus' community newspaper provides an opportunity to help unite Phoenix-area Muslims, Punnett says.

“I think every community has to have a way to connect in the media," says Punnett, who also is an Episcopalian deacon. 

The Muslim Voice has been around for 20 years. Unus purchased and revamped it last year, turning it into a publication that does real journalism. 

"When I saw what [the paper] was, I felt there was a missed opportunity to do something great," says Unus, who is pursuing a doctorate at Arizona State University. "I wanted to create this opportunity to give the community something they were missing."

Though the monthly paper is available at Phoenix-area mosques, it contains no religious content. Instead, the focus is on local issues affecting the community.

Unus finds that because the paper is geared toward the local Muslim population, Islamic residents are more willing to share their personal stories with it than with the mainstream press. 

“Some Muslims may feel like they’ve been misrepresented by [regular U.S.] media or feel apprehensive to talk to reporters [there],” Unus says. “So they feel that this [paper] is their publication. It’s their turf.”

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