Regina Mustafa wanted to explain how the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, impacted her on that day.
It was another 9/11 anniversary, and Mustafa, a well-known leader of the Islamic community in Rochester, had been called again by a media outlet, asking her to comment about the state of Muslims in America as the anniversary of the attacks was upon us again.
"I've done this interview before," Mustafa told the audience at Saturday's Community Interfaith Dialogue on Islam Q&A with Luther College professor and author Todd Green.
But instead of answering the same old questions, Mustafa asked the reporter to consider instead asking her the question most Americans get on 9/11 each year: Where were you when you saw the news coverage that morning?
"Everybody remembers where they were on 9/11," Mustafa said. "Muslim Americans were as sad and devastated and grieved as other Americans."
The painting of all Muslims with the broad bush of the people who committed the terror attacks or members of ISIS or Al-Queda is part of the reason Islamophobia has become a bigger problem in the West and, specifically, the United States in recent years, Green said.
Green — whose book "The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamophobia in the West" was recently released in its second edition — said Islamophobia in the West has the telltale signs of racism. Mustafa's story about the media is a prime example.
When a white Christian commits an act of terrorism in the United States, Green said, no one approaches him to disavow the acts of an individual whose race and religion might mirror his own.
"I am treated as an individual," Green said. "I'm not called on to condemn white terrorism."
Green said that when he speaks at events like the one Saturday, he is often questioned by Caucasian audiences who wonder how a religion can be targeted with racism.
"A lot of religions have been racialized in American religious history," he said. He pointed to how Catholics were treated in the 1800s and how Jews were marginalized during the early 1900s.
Looking at Muslims today, their skin color, their style of dress and other cultural and religious factors make them stand out, allowing the majority population to set them aside in a way similar to how blacks were treated historically, for example.
Green added that racism against Muslims and Islam has led to systemic discrimination in the West, including everything from movements to outlaw Sharia law in the United States or movements in France to ban Islamic women from wearing hijabs that cover their faces.
While some Christian communities have begun to ask how they can reduce Islamophobia and help educate their members about Islam and Muslim culture, the government in the United States has created policies to make matters worse.
"Republicans and Democrats have dropped the ball on this," he said.
Green said none of his concerns over government policies or even media representations of Islam reduces the fact that there are aspects of how Islam is practiced by some that can be troubling, including everything from honor killings to not letting women drive or work outside the home.
But the idea that Muslims are not opposed to some of the most extreme elements of Islamic culture is just wrong. Green said a lot of critics of Islam will focus on Saudi Arabia.
"I know a lot of Muslims with things to say on Saudi Arabia," Green said. "Many Muslims are standing in line to do that."
As for that interview Mustafa was reluctant to do, she said she talked about being in college in 2001 and having classes cancelled that day, driving home and looking with fear into the sky, wondering if more airplanes were going to come crashing down.
None of that made that night's news, she said. Instead, the reporter took a quote of hers out of context and ran it against a veteran who took the opportunity "to bash my religion."