Nora Abu-Dan, co-founder of Emerald Project, wears a traditional Palestinian keffiyeh. Photo: John Barkiple.

Emerald Project Co-Founder Nora Abu-Dan is Proud to be Palestinian

Activism, Outreach and Education

Nora Abu-Dan and Satin Tashnizi first met at a pageant in 2014. Competing as Miss Palestine and Miss Iran, the two women won first place and runner-up, respectively. “It was a surreal moment,” Abu-Dan says. “It was called the Miss United Nations Pageant, and at the time, [the Palestinian] flag wasn’t up at the United Nations in real life.” Three years later, Abu-Dan and Tashnizi founded Emerald Project to fight Islamophobia in Salt Lake City. 

The nonprofit organization was first formed in reaction to the “Muslim Ban” passed by former President Donald Trump in 2017, but now it’s evolved into something much more. “We had to transform our organization to address more of the root issues,” Abu-Dan says. Now, she says, they focus on educating and empowering Muslim youth in the community, hosting annual events such as the Muslim Youth Conference and an educator workshop series called STEM Rooted in Culture. Coming up this spring is the fourth edition of Slam the Islamophobia, a night of prose, poetry and art performance by and for young Muslims to share their diverse stories. 

“I felt like I was speaking in this echo chamber where no one could hear me, and then all of a sudden, I woke up one day and I saw that people support us.”

The Emerald Project focuses on educating and empowering Muslim youth in the community. Photo: John Barkiple.

Abu-Dan believes that art plays an important role in activism and solidarity. “I love poetry and I love spoken word,” she says. “I always say it’s in our blood, because my people have historically been poets—poets and farmers.” To her, art is a form of cathartic release that has the power to be transformative in the larger community. “If you look at the wall [between Israel and the West Bank], everybody paints murals on it,” she explains. “The Palestinian people are so resilient. They write on the walls that keep them in.”

In the wake of the ongoing war in Gaza, Emerald Project has also collaborated with the Palestinian Solidarity Association of Utah, Arabs in Utah and PSL Salt Lake (a local chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation) to hold rallies at the Utah State Capitol demanding a ceasefire and a stop to Israeli military aid. “Even for me, someone who hasn’t been there a long time … [Palestine] is still my home,” Abu-Dan says about why she feels compelled to speak up and take action. “But I’m coming from a place of privilege. I’m not there; I’m not having bombs raining over me every day.” 

When I ask how the Palestinian community in Utah is coping with the humanitarian crisis overseas, Abu-Dan tells me, “We’re not coping at all.” Emerald Project has requested multiple times to meet with Governor Spencer Cox, who has publicly stated his support for Israel, and was denied each time. Palestinians in Utah, she says, are “dealing with the issue of wanting to speak the truth and wanting to stand up, but also taking care of their families here, because some people don’t have the luxury of getting fired.” 

“We had to transform our organization to address more of the root issues.”

Despite the hopelessness, Abu-Dan is moved by witnessing local and international displays of solidarity for Palestinians. “I felt like I was speaking in this echo chamber where no one could hear me, and then all of a sudden, I woke up one day and I saw that people support us.” If you want to make a difference, her first piece of advice is to educate yourself about Palestine. Secondly, she says, know that “your voice counts, even if you’re not Palestinian.” As American taxpayers, our dollars fund the war so it’s our duty to speak up and protest.

Abu-Dan wears her keffiyeh—a traditional scarf that has come to symbolize the Palestinian liberation movement—with pride. “There’s been a lot of people who have tried to put me down for being Palestinian, for being Muslim, for being a woman,” she says. “Even though I feel like I’m never doing enough, I’m proud that I’ve never shied away from who I am.”

To get involved with Emerald Project, check out their upcoming events at Young Muslims can apply to be ambassadors and anyone can become a volunteer.

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