Islam Forum at SCSU tackles islamophobia


Taylor Nicole Richards – News Writer

The Adanti Student Center ballroom boomed with applause after Emine Gul Demir, a junior journalism major, told her harrowing story of harassment she faced on campus last semester for being a Muslim. Demir, along with a handful of professors and guest speakers, spoke out against ignorance and prejudice towards the Islamic faith on Wednesday, Feb. 3 at Southern’s Forum on Islam.

When junior Zain A. Seyal approached the podium, he started off by announcing “as salaamu aleikum,” which means “peace be upon you,” a common greeting and parting phrase in Arabic. Seyal considered Demir’s harassment as a hidden blessing that brought over 100 students and faculty to the forum.

“If someone had to receive a few hurtful words in order for a mass gathering to come together and spread the true meaning of Islam, then so be it. Who knows? Maybe everyone here would still be questioning what the message [of Islam] is still,” said Seyal.

Imam Omer Bajwa, Coordinator of Muslim Life, Chaplain’s Office at Yale University, said that islamophobia, or the fear or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, is a “sad reality.” He urged members of the crowd to be “critical consumers of information” and to “analyze everything you are exposed to, consciously or subconsciously.”

“When you see phobia, sexism, racism, islamophobia; I encourage you to say that it is not acceptable,” said Bajwa. “Silence itself is taking a position– so I encourage you to break that silence.”

SCSU’s Forum on Islam was held not only to shine a light on the presence of islamophobia on Southern’s campus and around the nation, but to create an atmosphere of education and dialogue as well. Seyal, in the beginning of the forum, said that instead of hating on someone for wearing a hijab, take the moment to ask about it or learn why someone chooses to wear it.

“At the end of the day, ignorance and fear combine to produce hatred,” said Steven Judd, professor of middle east history.

As a means of alleviating that ignorance, associate professor of computer science Amal Abd El-Raouf presented a powerpoint highlighting common misconceptions of the Islamic faith in the West and showed what the real meaning of certain phrases, words, or customs meant to practicing Muslims. She said that Muslims make up one percent of the American population, and 22 percent of the world’s population. Not all Muslims are Arab, and not all Arabs are Muslim. She continued by devoting a slide to the real meaning of the word jihad.

“Jihad means ‘to strive and to struggle,’” said El-Raouf. “Doing something that you don’t want to do because you know it will better yourself is the real meaning of jihad.”

Krystyna Gorniak-Kocikowska, professor of philosophy and religious studies, compared the world’s three biggest religions.

“I believe that the present conflict is not religion-based,” she said, referencing ISIS in the Middle East and islamophobia in the U.S. “I believe that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam may be used as a screen to hide the real roots of why there’s a conflict.”

The final speaker before audience questions was Professor Judd, who spoke about what ISIS really means to Americans. He said the group doesn’t pose an “existential threat” to the U.S. and the real victims of ISIS are Muslims in Iraq and Syria.

“There are refugees clinging to boats trying to get to Greece or Europe that are fleeing ISIS. They are not coming to attack us, they are desperate,” said Judd. “What we see in America is the victims of ISIS, Muslims, being blamed for ISIS. They are getting it from both sides. The refugees are ‘threats’ because they are Muslim. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Photo Credit: Taylor Nicole Richards – News Writer

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