04.26.2017 ________________________________________

A short interview with Peter Biello of New Hampshire Public Radio.


Robert Azzi speaks with NHPR’s Peter Biello.

Why did you decide to do this?

I’ve been writing a column for about six years now. It’s been appearing in The Concord Monitor and Portsmouth Herald, mostly. And I realized that a lot of people have a bias against Islam that is not based on knowledge. It’s based basically on not knowing any Muslims and not having any interactions with Muslims. There are only 1,200-2,000 Muslims in New Hampshire. I realized from my unique, privileged point of view that I could take my answers to their questions on the road.

And what kind of questions are you fielding?

I’m getting great questions. First of all, I’m realizing that the animus is really based on just not knowing. All the rhetoric we hear that’s hateful is not really built into most New Hampshire residents, my neighbors. So I get questions that range from believing or thinking that Islam is a monolithic religion when it’s not, to questions like, “Why don’t Muslims denounce terrorism?” They do, on a regular basis. Questions about ISIS and Al-Qaeda and women wearing hijab and the relationship with Jesus and the prophet Muhammad and the Quran. Also questions about my background and living for years in the Middle East and my conversion to Islam as a young adult.

So you’re speaking from the perspective of you, Robert Azzi, and you’re not saying all Muslims feel this way because, as you say, it’s not a monolith.

Right, and I try to make it clear that I’m not speaking as a theologian. I’m not speaking as a scholar. I’m speaking from my own experience. In fact, I encourage them to look at many sources because there is as much divergence in Islam as there is in any other religion, and I want them to say, “Here’s my neighbor, Robert Azzi in Exeter, and this is what he thinks and this is what he believes.” Perhaps that will trigger something. Basically I want people to become aware of things they didn’t know they didn’t know.

Do you feel like people were afraid to ask you and so you had to offer this explicit invitation?

It was this fear, especially since 9/11, that somehow Muslims are unapproachable. They were the “other.” They weren’t just the “other,” but they were so foreign, even in this land, and so I realized—especially in the last year and a half, when I really took this show on the road, if you will—people wanted a safe space to ask these questions.

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