On Tuesday, April 18 at 7 p.m., students, faculty and community members gathered in the Main Hall auditorium to attend a panel hosted by the West Chester University Muslim Student Association (MSA) to discuss the prevention of Islamophobia both on campus and in society at large.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, as of 2015 there were 3.3 million Muslims in the United States. Despite the religion’s prominence, in 2015 YouGov.com found that 27 percent of 1,000 respondents had a “very unfavorable” view of Islam and 28 percent had a “somewhat unfavorable” view.
As part of campus Islamic Awareness Week, this panel had Kiran Smith and Waneeza Mughees of the MSA executive board cover core Islamic beliefs, practices and values in a brief slideshow.
“Our mission is to create a safe space and unify our campus,” explained Smith, the vice president of MSA.
After an introduction, the focus shifted to Asheq Fazlullah, an executive committee member of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Philadelphia.
Fazlullah stressed the prominence of animosity, bullying and harassment faced by Muslim children and adults due to Islamophobia. According to a Georgetown University research project looking into Islamophobia, there were 174 anti-Muslim related violent acts in 2015.
Fazlullah also talked about the prominence of racial and religious profiling that Muslims face, especially following the travel ban implemented by President Donald Trump. Fazlullah’s cousin was denied entry into the United States in 2017 despite having American citizenship, and he said that it is the “arbitrariness that increases the fear.”
While acknowledging details of the animosity faced by Muslims, Fazlullah also explained some ways in which dominant societal culture can progress past prejudice. He emphasized education and engagement as two main ways of inducing change.
“Once we get to know one another, we find that our differences are much less than we think,” said Fazlullah.
The Q&A panel consisted of four people: two MSA members and Fazlullah, as well as Zehra Wamiq, the founder and executive director of the Delaware Valley Speakers Bureau. All panel members spoke about their personal experiences as Muslim Americans and answered audience questions related to the Islamic faith in general.
When asked what students can do to combat the misrepresentations of Muslims in the media, Aamir Amanullah, the MSA events coordinator, said, “The best thing to do is to get educated.”
Amanullah reflected on a media story he saw that incorrectly portrayed Muslims.
“There’s people that cross into the political spectrum that throw out [ideas that] Muslims do this, and if you look in the actual teaching, it’s not there,” said Amanullah.
Throughout the event, the MSA board members in attendance and panel speakers encouraged students to attend MSA events on campus and get to know the members in order to break down stereotypes and prejudice on campus.
Following the panel, Mughees stated, “I think the most beneficial part of the panel was giving students an opportunity to learn about their fellow students. I hope it makes others realize that Muslim Americans are normal, everyday Americans, just like everyone else, who just so happen to practice a different Abrahamic faith.”
“We hope that the event allowed people to learn more about the Muslim Student Association, the Islamic faith, and opened their hearts to more tolerance, understanding and coexistence,” Mughees concluded.
You can contact the MSA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Kratz is a third-year student majoring in English writings track with a minor in sociology. She can be reached at SK822925@wcupa.edu.