Search form

Muslim in America: Changing the Conversation

Play Video

Spark Public

Muslim in America: Changing the Conversation

May 3, 2017

Maleeha Choudhry’s idea of America comes from the Woody Guthrie song that she grew up listening to, which proclaims, “This land was made for you and me.”

But the rise in hate crimes and anti-Islamic rhetoric in recent months has altered  her view.

“Seeing this kind of America, that just doesn’t seem right to me at all,” the 22-year-old says.

So she decided to do something about it. Choudhry joined a group of her Muslim peers who are working to change the conversation.


Choudhry is a member of Seattle’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community, a sect of Islam. Every Wednesday evening members arrive at a local coffee shop and wait for strangers to show up and talk with them.

Coffee, Cake and True Islam is part of a national effort by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to educate non-Muslims about Islam. Their goal? To build bridges and connect with their communities.

“To just walk up to a Muslim...that’s not something that’s easy for [many] Americans to do,” says Choudhry. “So having this platform is really amazing because [it helps us] see that we have common ground.”

At a recent meeting, a group of about 15 people gathered at a coffee shop in Seattle’s University District, hoping to learn more about the local Muslim community. Choudhry helped lead the discussion.

The group took turns introducing themselves and a sense of comradery quickly arose. Visitors asked questions like, “What does the Quran say about violence?” and “Do Muslim women have equal rights?”

Someone else wanted to know how the Ahmadiyya sect differed from the 72 other sects of Islam.

One participant drew a comparison between the variations in beliefs among denominations of Christianity and those of different Islamic sects. In her experience, wide ranges of interpretations and beliefs exist in all religions.

Choudhry says she thought the evening was a success.

“I saw young Americans coming together and opening up. We don’t see that that often. We always just see the negative. So to see a positive light was really nice,” says Choudhry. “We need to do that more.”

Participant Tamara Power-Drutis agrees, saying, “I really believe that human interaction forces us to see common ground… there’s just nothing like sitting down and talking to each other.”

What is the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community?

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community first emerged in 1889 as an Islamic revival movement out of India. The movement was led by Mirzah Ghulam Ahmad, who Ahmadis believe was the awaited messiah, who came “to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace.”

Ahmadis are the only Islamic sect to accept Ahmad as the messiah. Mainstream sects of Islam do not recognize Ahmadis as “true Muslims.” The Ahmadiyya Community has been subject to persecution worldwide. Pakistani law forbids Ahmadis from identifying as Muslim.

Halla and Maleeha give us a crash course on the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community:


Watch some of the conversation from a recent Coffee, Cake, and True Islam meeting.


Find a Coffee, Cake, and True Islam meetup near you.

In 2016, the United States experienced the largest rise in anti-Muslim hate groups in since 2010, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. FBI data reveals that in 2015, anti-Muslim assaults in the United States reached the highest levels since 9/11.

“The number one way to combat Islamophobia is to talk to Muslims, have open dialogue,” says Coffee, Cake and Islam participant Halla Ahmad. “A lot of people have a very different idea of what [they think] Islam teaches.”

According to a 2009 study by the Pew Research Center, conversations like these work:

“... people who know a Muslim are less likely to see Islam as encouraging of violence; similarly, those who are most familiar with Islam and Muslims are most likely to express favorable views of Muslims and to see similarities between Islam and their own religion.”

Choudhry says it’s data like this that motivates her and her friends to take part in events like Coffee, Cake and Islam.

“If we want to change people’s perspectives… and let them know, ‘Hey, we’re just like you,’ then we have to actually go out there and do that.”

Did You Know?


Hear from a group of young Muslim adults who gathered at Halla and Maleeha’s mosque, in Monroe, Wash. on some of the issues they grapple with as they provide context for the teachings of Islam.


Why do Muslim women cover themselves?

Why are there separate spaces for men and women at Mosque?

Are Muslims treated equal in our society?

The political divide.

Islam and government.

What’s one thing you want people to know about Muslims?

Discussion Participants from left to right: Maryam Tariq, Sana Malik, Maleeha Choudhry, Halla Ahmad, Alam Ali (discussion leader), Humad Choudhry, Ijaz Sial.


Jen Germain

Jen Germain is a media producer with the Creative Services team at Cascade Public Media, helping to drive brand and programming initiatives. Previously, Jen worked as a producer with Spark Public, where she helped lead digital strategy and mentor a team of millennial multimedia journalists. Find her on Twitter @jengermain. 

More stories by Jen Germain