The State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee last month held a hearing on a Senate joint resolution that would designate each January Muslim Heritage Month in New Jersey.
On behalf of American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), Moorestown resident Saima Bhutta testified before the committee in favor of the measure, sponsored by state senators Joe Pennacchio and Brian P. Stack and co-sponsored by state Sen. A.M. Bucco.
“I’m very happy that I have this opportunity and that I am part of this great group of people with CAIR-NJ (Council on American-Islamic Relations) and AMD and a couple of other organizations,” Bhutta said.
She is a member of a Muslim caucus group in New Jersey, and initially started working on the senate resolution before COVID with members Jimmy Small, Ayaz Aslam and Jessica Berrocal, before testifying before the committee on Dec. 19.
“It’s fantastic,” she said of working with others on the resolution. “For the past 26 years, I have been involved in some sort of advocacy group. I’ve been involved in groups that have been doing activism for different causes … Any inequality that I see I would get on the bandwagon, because I really cannot stand that.”
Resolution items requested by AMD and CAIR-NJ include a unified definition of Islamophobia, diversity in the governor’s employment of Muslims and a Muslim cabinet member.
“For the past 15 years, more and more things were brought to my attention, and after 9/11, we saw a tremendous increase in Islamophobia and hatred toward Muslims for not knowing who they are, just because the people who were involved in that tragedy were considered Muslims, and that’s why they think everybody is like that,” Bhutta noted.
If the resolution passes, it will call upon state residents, local government agencies and interested organizations to observe the month of January with appropriate ceremonies, activities and educational programs. It would also allow for the state and its residents to respectfully acknowledge and promote awareness and appreciation of Muslim Americans and recognize the many contributions of New Jersey’s Muslim community.
Bhutta hopes the bill will have an impact on communities at large.
“I feel that during that month (January), school systems, whether its local governments, they will talk, they will educate the local towns and schools and the state about Muslim heritage,” she explained.
“They will talk about who Muslims are …” Bhutta added. “A lot of people don’t know about Muslims; they have some weird ideas about Muslims. That would clear that air.”