Anna is a Muslim and Aubrey is not, but the two women became close friends by creating a project to educate the public about what Islam really is.
Muslims of Bloomington is a project produced by Aubrey Seader and Anna Maïdi, and is part of the Openhearted Campaign seeking to promote tolerance and understanding of Muslim Americans.
Muslims of Bloomington consists of two smaller projects — The Hijab Diaries and the Muslims of Bloomington Blog. Both of these tell stories of local Muslims to show people that Muslims are no different from anyone else.
“Telling people’s stories is so powerful,” Seader said. “They break down barriers so much more than them having to explain themselves.”
The Hijab Diaries is a podcast featuring Muslim women from the Islamic Center that speak of their lifestyle and experiences with prejudice. Muslims of Bloomington is a blog that features the stories of other Muslims in a style similar to Humans of New York.
The project began in January. The blog has one continuous story while the podcast has two episodes. The project is owned by the Islamic Center of Bloomington, Seader said.
“The goal of the project is to help people get to know Muslims,” Maïdi said. “A lot of people in the United States probably don’t know a Muslim, and when you don’t know someone that is a part of a particular group, and you hear a lot of misinformation about that particular group, especially negative misinformation, it’s easy to fear that group.”
Both the producers said they have received only positive feedback from viewers of the content, but it may be due to the fact that the project is still very local.
They said it is difficult to avoid offending people through this project, and logistical issues such as organizing interviews slowed down the process.
“These are my people, and the only way that I can do my duty for these women, and for our whole community as Muslims, is to reach out to people and help them get to know us,” Maïdi said. “If people know us then they’re not going to be afraid of us, and if we know people then we aren’t going to be afraid of them. Even if it’s a drop in the bucket, I’m helping remove some of that fear.”
Both Seader and Maïdi said they are thankful for one another. Maïdi said she couldn’t have done this project without Aubrey Seader, and they both said they have become close friends through this experience.
The two producers do not have an end time in sight, but they said they hope the project continues strong. They said they have had a lot of help from the community in many different ways from small assistance to participating in their interviews.
Seader said there has been a clash of feminist movements over the decision to wear a hijab.
She said they wear hijabs as their own way of expressing their feminist identity and the idea they cover themselves may stop many liberals from digging deeper into their culture due to their assumption that it’s a form of oppression.
Maïdi said she was slightly nervous at the prospect of hostility as they broaden the reach of the project.
“I think it’s going to be really hard for both of us,” she said. “I am Muslim, so if we get hostility, that’s against me too. It’s not just against my project, it’s against everything I believe.”
Seader also said she was worried about hostility aimed at members of the Islamic faith.
“Before I did this project, I didn’t know many Muslims personally,” she said. “Now that I’m doing this project, and I’ve had a chance to know members of the community, I worry about them.”
There will be an open house at 7:30 p.m. April 10 in the Islamic Center, Maïdi said.
Seader encourages people to investigate their websites.
They are currently looking for a social media manager for the project.
“We’re just normal,” Maïdi said. “I feel like people think we’re mysterious and questionable, and I’m just a regular mom, and wife, and sister that loves people and loves the world and that wants to be a part of it. When someone looks at me with a skeptical eye, I’m just so confused, because what I think is, ‘I’m just like you.’”