A Muslim man in New Plymouth is offering himself for “meet a Muslim” dates to counter what he sees as a growing fear about the religion.
TashriqÂ Hanif decided to make the offer to push back against a growing IslamophobiaÂ and American president Donald Trump’s move to “protect” his country from terrorism by imposing a temporary ban on people entering USA if they come from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
“(It’s getting) a message out there to let people know we are here to be in a country like New Zealand that’s a very peaceful country. Let’s understand each other’s cultures, why don’t I become your friend.
“Let’s sit together, let’s understand each other. It doesn’t have to be religion, just open-friendship type of conversation,”Â the client manager at SparkÂ said.
While he hadn’t been subject to any religious bigotry in New Plymouth, he had watched the rise of Trump and his policies as president of the United States with disappointment.
He said he believed part of the reason for the growingÂ tension was a large majority of people did not know a Muslim themselves. So he posted his offer to meet with anyone who was Muslim curiousÂ on social media website Neighbourly.
He said he wanted to dispel the image of radical Muslims that had recently been portrayed in the media.
“Islam is not all about terrorism. We don’t promote this, we strongly condemn this and if we put a ban in place then we’re just ruining the relationship with the country itself.”
Hanif said he had receivedÂ support from many people in the community since making his post but had yet to have an official ignorance busting meeting, though he was hoping these would start in the next few days.
Hanif, who moved to New Plymouth a year ago, has already taken another initiative to explain his faith.
Every Saturday, he sets up a book stall in a central New Plymouth carpark with a banner that reads “love for all, hate for none”.
The statement is a mainstay in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, one of 78 sects of Islam around the world.
At his book stall, Hanif said he offered information and books explaining what Islam was about who they were.
“It’s eradicating terrorism, it’s eradicating extremism, we really want to educate people that Islam is not all about terrorism,” he said.
Hanif said while his family were the only Ahmadi Muslims in New Plymouth, there were also a number of other Muslim sects within the region.
NationallyÂ 46,149 people identified as Muslim in 2013 while in the 2006 census 0.3 per cent of the Taranaki population identified as Muslim â€“ about 300 people.
In contrast, just under 2 million New Zealanders identified as Christian in 2013.
Hanif is also running a Quran Exhibition at the Fitzroy Hall on Saturday February 11, where more than 50 different translations of the Muslim holy book will be on display, including a copy of the Kur’anu Tapu, a Maori translation of the Quran.
Taranaki Cathedral dean, Peter Beck, said it wasÂ important for people of all faiths to work together, especially with the “worrying” statements that had been made in the media around the world.
“What’s happening around the world is worry for all of us and I think we need to stand up together and work for peace and reconciliation for everyone,” he said.