Muslim group holds blood drive to dispel uninformed perceptions

UC Berkeley senior Osaama Saifi jokes, “Being named Osaama, I have a connection to 9/11.” But although Saifi takes the link lightly, he said he has been perceived differently as a Muslim in America since 9/11.

Saifi is a youth leader for the San Francisco chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 rapidly approaches, he and other Muslim students around UC Berkeley — and around the world — are taking part in the organization’s initiative Muslims for Life to help restore a peaceful image of the Muslim faith.

The event was launched earlier this month by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as a nationwide campaign to show that terrorists do not represent Muslims or Islam. Collaborating with the American Red Cross at UC Berkeley and UCSF Medical Center, the organization put on a blood drive Wednesday in Pauley Ballroom in the MLK Student Union — just one leg of the United States blood drive initiative, which includes over 200 stops in various cities and universities. The goal is to collect 10,000 units of blood throughout the month of September and to ultimately save approximately 30,000 lives.

Saifi remembers last September, when various religious groups took part in a burning of the sacred book of Islam, the Holy Quran, which he said was a perfect example of the misrepresentation his heritage has faced since 9/11.

“The larger American society needs to understand that what happened on 9/11 is an isolated incident, and it does not mean that all Muslims are bad,” said UC Berkeley fifth-year Nuha Masri. “We want to further participate in society and show them that Muslims are integrated in everyday life. We are part of society, we go to the same schools and eat the same food. We are Americans.”

According to Saifi, the six-hour-long blood drive attracted all different types of people with varied reasons for their donations. While there was a high Muslim turnout, he said the event garnered wide community support, including participants who attended with the sole purpose of donating blood.

“I would do it whether or not it was put on by them. Most people already believe that most Muslim people in the U.S. are good people,” said graduate student Bryan McCulloch. “At least, I do.”

Saifi said that after people donated blood, he was able to sit down with them and talk about the cause. He said general reactions were extremely positive and that people were happy to have helped.

“I just wanted to give blood, and the cause happened to be great as well,” said UC Berkeley junior Sami Syed. “I don’t think that Muslims are to blame for what happened, but this is definitely a good way to give back to the community anyway.”

Saifi said the event was a huge success, and he was happy that people from such different pathways came together for one cause. He added that Muslims for Life is putting on more blood drives this month around the Berkeley area in hopes of promoting the cause.

“(The attacks) did not portray a realistic image of Islam,” he said. “Ten years ago, some Muslims took away the lives of others, and this is us trying to save lives by donating blood and contribute in a way that we can in Berkeley.”