A Muslim woman shares what Americans ask about Islam. Her answers are eye-opening.

Of the 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, 21% are converts to Islam.

And of those approximately 693,000 converts, one of them hopes to be the U.S.’s first Muslim senator.

Deedra Abboud has faced Islamophobic attacks since she first announced her plan to run against Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake in 2017. Abboud says that while people throughout the state have been largely supportive, many questions she receives are about her faith rather than her proposed policies.


Abboud documents these interactions in the hopes of clearing up misconceptions about Muslim Americans.

All images courtesy of Deedra Abboud, used with permission.

Abboud says there are some questions regarding her beliefs that come up regularly.

In many cases, people are asking out of genuine confusion or an eagerness to learn more.

Here are answers to five common questions people ask Muslim Americans. Abboud hopes that speaking to these might help more people understand her faith — and the religion of many Americans — better.

1. “Why Islam?”

“The first thing I was told was that they [Muslims] were all going to hell because they didn’t believe in Jesus,” says Abboud, talking about what she was taught growing up in Arkansas. “Then when I went to university I saw a Middle Eastern exchange student so I was always trying to convert them to Christianity.”

Abboud remembers the Muslim students being patient with her. They explained their beliefs in a way she could understand. This led to her studying Islam extensively and her decision to ultimately convert when she moved to Arizona in 1998.

2. “How did people react to your conversion to Islam?”

“My mother was actually very supportive,” Abboud explains, adding that since she had studying Islam for years before converting, it wasn’t a surprise to most people close to her.

Her transition in the workplace, however, took time.

Abboud says that she would get ready for work in the mornings, remove her hijab (headscarf) in the parking lot when she got to work, then put it back on when she left for the day.

“The reason why I disclosed it was because I heard someone saying, ‘You know, Muslims want to kill all Americans,’” she says.

Islamaphobia is not new in America, and Abboud’s action is just one example of what Muslim Americans are doing every day to avoid persecution.

3. “Do you feel your decision to wear the hijab contradicts your stance as a feminist?”

“If a woman is forced to wear a piece of clothing, it’s oppression,” she explains, “and forcing a woman to wear something or forcing a woman to not wear something are equal on the oppression scale.”

Abboud continues:

“Saying that that this is a symbol of oppression is equivalent to people saying that a woman who wears a miniskirt is asking to be raped. Neither is truth. What I choose to wear in the morning is completely a personal choice.”

4. “But isn’t Islam oppressive to women?”

Abboud is quick to point out that oppression of women happens everywhere, regardless of religion. Her faith is not what mistreats or limits women — it’s other people who use faith as an excuse for their behavior.

“My dad beat my mom, and when she went to the church, they told her to be a better wife,” she says. “When she went to her dad, he told her to be a better wife. When she went to the police, they said be a better wife.”

Abboud explains that while there are some cultures in predominantly Muslim areas that are oppressive to women, many Muslim countries have elected women as their prime minister or president, including Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey. (Can you say the same about the U.S.?)

5. “You worked for CAIR — isn’t that a terrorist organization?”

CAIR, or the Council on American-Islam Relations, is a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group that formed in 1994 as a reaction to negative depictions of Muslims in the media. Despite its status as a nonprofit, critics have accused CAIR of being a terrorist organization affiliated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

“I just don’t understand,” Abboud says. “If it’s supposedly a terrorist organization, how it does it continue to have nonprofit status in several states and has survived every administration for the last almost 30 years?”

Abboud started the Arizona chapter of CAIR in 2001, shortly before 9/11.

Traveling for her campaign gives Abboud the chance to clear up misconceptions about Islam, but she’s happy when voters just want to talk about the issues.

“Most people actually do want to talk about things that matter,” she says, “you know, like not dying from poor health care, protecting the internet, basic freedom issues — things [that] actually affect their lives,” she says.

It’s a great shift and is evidence progress is being made, even if slowly.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Courtesy of Anthony Sampson
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Anthony Sampson has understood the value of mentorship since he was a young man. Growing up in Houston, he had a mentor who helped him see the importance of volunteering and giving back to his community. By the time he graduated from college and settled in Dallas, he knew he wanted to share some of that wisdom and experience with the next generation.

That's why Sampson, an Allstate insurance agent for 38-years, co-founded 100 Black Men of Greater Dallas/Fort Worth more than 20 years ago and is still deeply involved, sitting on the board of directors. The organization matches Black male mentors with mostly young Black men to help them live up to their potential and contribute to society. By building character and producing leaders, 100 Black Men works toward improving the whole community.

"It means a lot to our mentees to see positive examples of Black men," Sampson shares. "I believe that 'What They See Is What They'll Be.' In fact, it's our organization's official motto."

According to Sampson, strong mentorship can help young people develop the skills they need "to understand how to deal with issues in life from a positive perspective." To date, the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of 100 Black Men has mentored more than 1,500 young people.

Kynsington Hobbs is one of them. Now a senior in high school, Hobbs began a mentorship with Anthony Sampson when he was 13. He says working with Sampson changed his perspective of what success can look like in the African-American community, especially for kids who don't have dads in the picture.

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Logan Kavaluskis holds his new puppy for the first time.

At 47, Joe Kavaluskis lost his nine-year battle with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer, on January 8, 2020, leaving behind a wife and two sons. But that didn't stop him from fulfilling one of his son's dreams a week later on his 13th birthday.

In the final days of his life, he told his wife, Melanie, to buy their son, Logan, a puppy after he passed. He thought the dog would brighten his spirits after such a loss and it was something he always wanted but couldn't have. Joe was allergic to dogs so he couldn't have one in the home.

"He said, 'Just promise that when I do pass, that you get Logan a puppy as soon as you can, because I know that it will bring him a lot of comfort,'" Melanie Kavaluskis told Inside Edition.

Throughout his childhood, Logan had hermit crabs and lizards, but never the puppy he always wanted. When he was 3 years old he got a stuffed Boston terrier and named it Puppers and took it everywhere he went for years.

Joe thought it was the right time for him to have a real Boston terrier of his own.

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