Saad Khan just wants to be seen as normal.
The aspiring doctor in his first year at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City grew up in Delaware, watching the way people interacted with him and his Muslim family. Like most Muslims, Khan said, he prays five times a day, does not participate in certain activities like drinking and believes America holds many opportunities for him. It's why his parents immigrated to the United States many years ago, he said.
But he reminded those gathered Sunday at Silverside Church in Brandywine Hundred that the color of his skin or his religious practices shouldn't dictate the narrative of how he is seen in today's world.
"I want you to see me, to see us, to see all Muslims, as normal people," he said. "We're just normal people who want to live our lives."
Khan was one of four speakers at the forum "Rising Islamophobia: What It's Like to be a Muslim in America Today." The event was organized by the Movement for a Culture of Peace, which formed in a response to gun violence in Wilmington in 2014, and the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs.
The purpose was and continues to be ending the fear and ignorance surrounding Islam and those who practice it, organizer June Eisley said.
"People just hate for no reason," she said, adding that it became difficult to see her Muslim friends have to deal with such negative behavior.
Instead, Eisley hoped that by hearing the personal experiences of local Muslims of all ages, the community could come together to better help them.
Timmie Mirza, a senior accountant at University of Delaware, said there are small steps anyone can take to making Muslims feel more at ease with their religion in a public space. When she began wearing her hijab, or head covering, to work each day, she immediately noticed a difference – and was awed by her co-workers' respect for her religious decision.
Rather than only wear the hijab on her days off, Mirza said she felt wearing it all the time showed her dedication to her religion and her wish to show that publicly.
"It teaches you to live an authentic life," she said of reading the Koran. Being a proud Muslim, she said, means being unafraid to share these parts of herself.
It's not always easy though, said Rumi Khan, a junior at Newark Charter School, especially when many extremist terrorist groups identify themselves as practicing Islam and serving the calls to honor their God when completing these acts.
Despite today's largely negative story line, he said there is much more to the history of Islam and the changes it has helped make in the world.
That narrative can be hard to hear though, said Professor Muqtedar Khan, as politicians change their campaign strategy to overpower others striving for the presidential seat.
"Just listening to Donald Trump, I feel alien in this country," he said. "Truthfully, Islamophobia has it wrong. No one's afraid of Muslims. It's Muslims who are afraid."
The professor has written extensively on Islamophobia, or the fear of Islam, and its perpetuation over the last decade, but not much has changed, Khan said. The same message he gave to legislators five years ago is now more true than ever, he said.
He urged community members to consider putting the word "Jew" or "black" into a sentence where the word Muslim would appear, especially those uttered by American politicians in the ongoing presidential campaigns. Those comments would stir a huge response, Khan said, but when it includes the word Muslim, no one gets upset.
"It will completely poison our country," Khan said, "because if it becomes legal to discriminate against one kind of people, it will become legal to discriminate against all types of people."