BY ZAMIRAH HUSSAIN – STAFF WRITER
Being a Muslim in the United States is not easy. After the horrific and tragic events of 9/11, being Muslim became associated with terrorism and anti-Western sentiment.
Many students don’t know that here on campus there is a Muslim Student Association with roughly 17 members. The MSA is meant to function as a support system and as a way for Muslim students to voice their opinions as a collective.
For me personally, being Muslim has never been easy. Growing up with my peers telling me my father is a terrorist or that I was personally responsible for 9/11 made me feel disconnected from the religion I grew up with.
MSA has given me a way of reconnecting to the religion that I know and not what is depicted in the media. I would never say that Islam is perfect as I’m too much of a realist for that, but I would say that the Islam I see is full of love for all people and a devotion to God. And I feel that MSA is a vital instrument on campus in showing that message and shutting down ignorance.
This year alone we hosted an Eid dinner in September and a panel of Muslim voices in March. Both events were very popular and engaged the community in a discussion of what Islam in the United States really is.
There is another panel scheduled for April 26th in Young113 from 7:30-8:30, and will be more focused on question and answer than the first panel. MSA wants to answer questions the community may have and clear up misconceptions.
I asked Shanze Arshad and Aqdas Khudadad, two first-year students in MSA, to share their experience being Muslim on campus so far and what MSA means to them. I first asked what being a Muslim meant to them.
“Being a Muslim is a source of freedom because I don’t have to be bound by worldly desires and instead find peace and satisfaction in seeking Allah’s pleasure.” Arshad said
“I was born and raised Muslim so Islam has always been an integral part of who I am. I do not see it as merely a list of dos and don’ts but rather as a lifestyle. Islam provides me with a source of peace, hope, and guidance.” Khudadad said
I then asked what MSA means to them.
“ MSA is a way to create an open forum between the Muslim students on campus and everyone else. It is a way to humanize Muslims and create a strong support system during these troubling times.” Arshad said
“For me, MSA functions as a support network as well as a means through which Muslim students can voice opinions and a channel through which Muslim students can spread awareness about Islam on campus and within the community. I believe MSA is vital to promoting a more accurate understanding of Islamic ideals.” Khudadad said
And then I asked specifically about life on campus. I wanted to know how life at Centre was as a Muslim for them.
“Life at Centre as a Muslim is pretty challenging. Beyond just the difficulties Cowan presents for those who follow halal guidelines as well as the constant search for places to pray when I can’t run back to my dorm, there seems to be an air of complacency when it comes to recognizing issues affecting minority groups on campus. There are of course those who are well aware of these issues but I find that these are the people, sometimes the only people, who show up to events which seek to educate the Centre community on these larger and more personal issues. Just one example is the recent Muslim panel in which Muslim students explained and answered questions on why it was difficult being a Muslim in the US and on campus. The faces I saw at this event were the same ones as those at the vigil for peace (which called for unity) and the safe space (held after the election so people could express their grief and their grievances).” Arshad said
“There are everyday obstacles such as when trying to find a nearby area to pray our five daily prayers and when trying to find a healthy option in Cowan that meets our dietary restrictions. Friday is our holy day of the week, however due to class times, it is difficult to go to a Mosque for Friday prayer. But there are also larger issues present on campus which stem from a general misunderstanding of Islam.” Khudadad said
Then I brought it to the national level and asked how they had been affected by recent political events and President Trump’s election.
“I’ve been directly affected by the recent political events not only because I’m Muslim but also an immigrant from a Muslim-majority nation. I’m also not a citizen but I plan on applying for citizenship this year. After Trump’s Muslim ban, I may have to cancel a volunteer trip I was supposed to go on because it is outside the US and I’m not entirely sure I could come back in. Since I’m applying for citizenship this year, I can’t exactly risk being stranded outside the US or being detained at the airport just because I wear a hijab. The country I’m from isn’t on the travel ban list but if Muhammad Ali Jr., a US citizen and more importantly the son of an icon, was detained at the airport twice, I’m not entirely confident I could clear airport security without some complications. Although, I’m well-aware that compared to a lot of other people, especially refugees from Muslim-majority nations, my concerns are not the worst.” Arshad said
“To describe the recent political events with one word, I’d say it has all been extremely hurtful. It hurts to see my religion, something that is so dear to me, be depicted and talked about in such inaccurate and offensive terms. Hostility towards Islam and minority groups in general is not unique to this election and has unfortunately existed for a while now, however, recently it seems people tend to be more open in expressing it. Due to the hostility and hate, I have female friends and relatives who either considered or have taken off their hijab in fear of facing extreme discrimination. This hurts me because this is a decision that should not be affected by the politics of where someone lives.” Khudadad said, “There is a sense of instability and fear, such as when traveling out of the country, which my family as well as many other Muslim families I know have been affected by. On campus, there often seems to be a sense of complacency and lack of care which is frightening and hurtful. However, there has definitely been a lot of support and unity as well. I think something positive that has come out of the recent events is that people are kind of forced to confront and deal with issues that have always been present but are now more out in the open.”
If you have any questions about the Muslim Student Association or Islam that you would like to see addressed at the panel on April 26th, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.