Barbara Sahli counters Muslim stereotypes in presentation


Jan Bloch, Staff Writer

Walking into Brookline Town Hall, most people wouldn’t expect Barbara Sahli, the presenter of “Understanding Islam and Muslims,” to be a white, blue-eyed woman, but she was.

On March 1, Barbara Sahli stood before a room filled with elementary, middle and high school teachers along with a handful of school directors to educate them about what it means to be a Muslim.

To give the audience a sense on how stereotypes may be formed, Sahli played a TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called “The danger of a single story.” Throughout this TED Talk, Adichie spoke about experiences that she had in which someone looked at her through “a single story” lense and created a stereotype about her in order for her image to fit their “single story.”

Once the video ended, Sahli related Adichie’s hardships to her own. According to Sahli, $250 million dollars has been put into publishing stories that falsely portray what it means to be Muslim. Sahili said that when these are the only stories people hear about what it means to be a Muslim, they form stereotypes.

Sahli talked about how despite the growing Islamophobia in America, the religion of Islam is about charity, being humble and respect.

She said a very prominent example of stereotypes caused by a single story is the hijab. She spoke about what the purpose of wearing one is and mentioned that when women wear one they can feel empowered; the hijab prevents people from judging women based on their looks and makes them judge women more on their accomplishments.

Local issues were brought up as well. Someone asked how they could implement Islam into the curriculum of Brookline middle schools and said they felt that Muslim students don’t have some of their religious needs fit into the school day. For instance, daily prayers for elementary school students aren’t always possible.

Baker has led the way in creating a more comfortable environment for its religious students. It has allowed Muslim students to take time out of their day to go through the rituals of washing themselves and praying to Mecca.

Sahli’s appearance contradicts many of the “single stories” that create stereotypes about Muslim women; her blue eyes and white skin go against the image many have of Islam. Her appearance and her presentation shed a new light on Islam that many are still oblivious too.