Mousa Shehadeh is a good-natured fellow.
But in recent years, world events have hit home in his daily life in Rocky Mount.
Terrorist attacks, war in the Middle East and suicide bombing abroad has left him feeling stereotyped locally.
“I am a human just like you,” Shehadeh said. “When we die, we both go underground the same way.”
A Muslim originally from Palestine, he believes he is misunderstood in his religion and culture.
And from the sentiments of a handful of others in his community, he is not alone.
On Wednesday evening at the Rocky Mount Islamic Center, the Rocky Mount Human Relations Commission conducted its meeting at the location with the goal of beginning a dialogue between the city and Rocky Mount’s Muslim community.
Human Relations Director Loretta Braswell said better communication is needed with the local Muslim population.
“What we want to do is listen to the Islamic community and see what they go through,” Braswell said.
Braswell and members of the commission listened as a small group of men and women retold stories of prejudice and discrimination.
“This is a great thing to do,” Shehadeh, a retired owner of an antique shop, a member of the Rocky Mount Human Relations Commission and a 37-year resident of the city said. “To let you know about us and build a bridge between the Muslim people and others.”
He recounted an experience years ago when a drunken man came into his antique shop on South Washington Street and accused him and his people of the Oklahoma City bombing.
“I came from the Middle East,” Shehadeh said. “That drunken man thought that everyone from overseas is related.”
Shehadeh’s brother, Muhammad Shehadeh, imam for the local mosque, said he and his wife, Fazeh, also have experienced discrimination. Muhammad said he believes that he has been treated unfairly by police during traffic accidents in recent years.
“Why? Because I have a beard and dark hair?” he asked. Fazeh said that she encountered discrimination when attempting to rent a bus for an outing sponsored by Islamic center.
“They think because you’re a Muslim, you are a terrorist,” she said. “Respect me, (and) I respect you. I cannot be like you, and you cannot be like me. … We all have red blood through our veins.”
A 12-year-old boy who is a student at Nash Central Middle School also spoke up. He said that he was handed literature at school by a classmate that claimed Islam is morally wrong.
“I handed it back,” he said. Commission member Lena Edwards said she can relate to the Islamic community’s plight because she came of age during segregation.
“My parents never taught me to be prejudice,” she said. “Local schools need to have a dialogue with the young.”
Braswell agreed and said that young people need to understand different religions. “We need to talk, and we don’t do that enough,” Braswell said. “We have to interact. Any way we can help, we’ll assist you.”