Muslims in York try to move beyond cultural stereotypes


Before starting at Central York High School, Rabyia Ahmed was told the school was among the more diverse in York County.

"My sister and I were still the only Muslim American girls there," said the Springettsbury Township resident.

The Muslim population in York County is a growing one, just shy of 1,000, said local equality advocate Rabiya Khan.

Khan, who lives in York City, said her son, who attends York Country Day School, was confused when his teacher decided to skip the Islam section of the textbook after teaching Christianity and Judaism.

"As parents, we have to take initiative," Khan said. "I felt that in this time it was important for this type of thing to be taught, and for students to just have the opportunity and learn from what was in their textbook."

The teacher in the end did decide to teach the chapter, but there was backlash, Khan said.

"There were parents threatening to take their kids out of school because the homework required them to list the five pillars of Islam," she said.

Awareness: In order to facilitate change, Khan set up a meeting with state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, who said it was "incredibly powerful to have the Muslim Capitol Day here, and I am sure it will be the first of many."

Khan, after scheduling the sit-down, asked friends if they also wished to attend.

In the end, Schreiber's office overflowed with people looking to speak about changes, not only within Muslim communities but across the board.

Some of their focuses included immigration, bullying, the raising of the minimum wage, gun control and equal pay.

"We are not looking only for solidarity from other Muslims but solidarity throughout faith in general," Ahmed said. "My heart feels so happy when there's a lot of diversity in a room, where people can celebrate and appreciate both the differences and similarities."

The key talking point for most, though, was raising awareness and further educating people on their culture.

"A lot of people wouldn't even know what our holidays are," Khan said. "Islam is the second-largest growing faith, and it is our job to teach people."

Discussion: Schreiber acknowledged the need to facilitate an ongoing discussion.

"The more open and candid conversations we can have, the better off we will be as a society," he said, tossing around ideas with the group, including diversity training and classes. "Love has to be in the infrastructure of that curriculum."

Schreiber recommended working with the York Jewish Community Center, which he said has taken many steps to educate the community.

When Schreiber asked what he could do to further their cause, Khan responded simply: "Please continue to acknowledge our community. Our goals locally will only be reached if people see us not how we are stereotyped, but for who we are as people."

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at