A Jesuit Mission for Muslim Acceptance

Six boxes of pizza were stacked on the table at the front of the classroom, several stacks of napkins positioned beside them. As students filed into the room, some immediately settled in their seats to chat with fellow group members, while others flocked to the pizza.

After leaving her backpack slumped beside her desk, one student ran up to the table, grabbed a handful of napkins, and opened the box at the top of the stack that was closer to her. As soon as she opened the box and saw the contents, her shoulders slumped, and she let out a sigh as she shook her head.

“Who ever thought it was a good idea to put pineapple on pizza?!” she exclaimed.

“Whoever it was, we should thank them!” a voice retorted from the back of the room.

A debate then ensued over whether pineapple pizza was a godsend or a crime against humanity. The students engaged in the debate seemed equally divided on the matter. I decided to remain neutral.

This was the scene in a Lalumiere Hall classroom prior to the commencement of a meeting of the Muslim Student Association of Marquette University on Thursday, April 26 at 6:30 pm. For my final journalism project, I chose to write about how life has changed for Muslim students at Marquette University since the election of Donald Trump. I compiled a list of questions, and I turned to the MSA for answers.

After explaining the purpose of my project, leaders of the MSA invited me to sit in on their meeting. It happened to be the night the group was hosting its final round of elections for the 2017 fall semester. As the meeting was called to order, I was handed a slip of paper, an invitation to participate in their elections despite the fact that I myself am not a member. Shortly after, the names of elected officers were called, and the nominees for the various positions were encouraged to make a brief speech. After each name was called, the respective student would rise to speak before the other members of the group.

“The prophet Mohammed teaches us that we are all equal,” said one student. “No one is better or worse than anyone else, and I want us to work to make things better for everyone, not just Muslims.”

“You guys seriously are my family,” said another. “I love all of you, and I want to do my best to make this group proud and to create a more welcoming environment for Muslim students.”

While these are just some of the words spoken by the elected officers of the MSA, all who delivered speeches spoke of how they want the MSA to work toward nurturing a supportive environment for students belonging to the nation of Islam and students of all religions. They desire a positive relationship with the public, and they are willing to work for it, but the events during and after the recent presidential campaign call into question whether or not the public is willing to foster that relationship.

Trumped: The Repercussions of the Presidential Election

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what the hell is going on. We have no choice.”

Although this statement was later removed from Donald Trump’s campaign website, the travel ban he called for on December 7th, 2015 set the stage for what would become a fifteen-month crusade to prevent refugees from certain Middle Eastern countries from entering the United States.

“There is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population,” said Trump.

The events that have taken place since his election have proven that that hatred is reciprocal. While the travel ban he initiated after his election was soon overturned by the Supreme Court, aggression toward Muslim Americans spiked during Trump’s campaign for presidency, and only continued to worsen after he was elected.

Between November 9th and December 12th of 2016, there were 112 reported anti-Muslim hate crimes, meaning that over the span of about 34 days, approximately 3 hate crimes occurred against Muslims per day throughout the United States. These statistics only represent hate crimes that were specifically targeted against Muslim Americans. The highest reported hate crimes in this period of time were targeted against immigrants, a fraction of whom identify as Muslim.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group that specializes in civil rights and public interest litigation, attributes the increase in violence against immigrants, minorities, and Muslims in the United States to what they refer to as the “Trump Effect.” Mark Potok, one of the world’s leading experts on extremism and editor-and-chief of the SPLC’s quarterly journal, blames the increase in hate crimes to Trump’s hostile language and inaccurate assertions about immigrants, African Americans, and Muslims during and after his campaign, claiming that his antics as a candidate and president encouraged and incited hate violence throughout nation. This connection stemmed from studies conducted by the SPLC that compiled acts of hate violence before and after Trump’s election.

https://www.splcenter.org/20161128/trump-effect-impact-2016-presidential-election-our-nations-schools

“In its post-election first study, looking at harassment and intimidation in the first 10 days after Trump’s election, the SPLC counted 867 hate incidents, some of them amounting to hate crimes, around the country,” Potok wrote.

The SPLC is a mere one of many publications to run reports on crimes committed against religious and ethnic minorities since the presidential election. Others, including the New York times, have published reports specifically related to crimes committed against minority college students, particularly African Americans, members of the LGBT community, and Muslims. Caitlin Dickerson and Stephanie Saul, journalists for the New York Times, wrote the article “Campuses Confront Hostile Acts Against Minorities After Donald Trump’s Election.” In the article, they detail acts of violence and intimidation that have been committed against minority students, several of which have occurred at Wellesley College in Boston, renowned for its movement to promote cultural diversity and tolerance.

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/11/us/police-investigate-attacks-on-muslim-students-at-universities.html?_r=0

The question remains as to whether Marquette University has fallen victim to the racism and Islamophobia promoted by the new POTUS.

Being the Difference

As a Jesuit institution, Marquette University promotes a mission of pursuing truth and knowledge in service to the human community. The administration attempts to provide an academically, socially, and culturally supportive environment in the hope that all students will succeed. A stroll through the basement of the Alumni Memorial Union on campus will provide a first-hand look at some of the many student-run cultural organizations that are sponsored by Marquette University.

The administration claims to be intolerant of bigotry and discrimination, but only the members of the MSA could testify as to whether or not the environment on Marquette’s campus has changed since Trump’s election.

Nuriyah Rasool is a junior at Marquette University, and a member of the Muslim Student Association. She is a hijabi Muslim woman attending college in an era when the President of the United States is calling for the expulsion and exclusion of Muslims from this country, and she agreed to share her experiences at Marquette since Trump’s election.

“From my end, I haven’t experienced any hate,” she said. “Rather, I’ve received a lot of apologies from people who I didn’t ask to apologize.”

Rasool admitted that she does not approve of the Trump Administration, as she does not believe President Trump is supportive of the Muslim community.

“As far as I am concerned for him,” said Rasool, “it is difficult for him to differentiate between regular Muslims and the actual enemy — ISIS.”

While she dislikes the new president, Rasool acknowledged the fact that every interaction she had after the election was positive. She had not personally experienced a negative encounter with Marquette students or faculty. Instead she received an outpouring of support from Marquette staff.

“Following the election, my US history professor pulled me aside from class and asked me to come to his office hours,” said Rasool. “I had no idea what to expect going into his office hours.”

When Nuriyah met with her professor, she was asked about her life and her upbringing and what she thought about Marquette after the election.

“He wanted to make sure that I felt safe on campus,” Rasool said, “and if I didn’t, he told me that his doors were open for me anytime. He recognized Marquette’s environment, being a predominantly white and Catholic University, and made sure I felt welcomed if not on the campus, but in his classroom.”

Hafsa Shereen is another Marquette student who is an active member of the MSA. She, along with Rasool, condemns the actions Trump Administration has taken against Muslims.

“Trump is the least supportive human being,” said Shereen.

Shereen has never been in a situation where she was made to feel self-conscious or guilty about her religion, but she has noticed a shift in the attitude toward Muslim students at Marquette University.

“I have seen a change in behavior towards Muslims,” said Shereen, “and it makes me want to cry with pride and joy because so many non-Muslims are standing with and for Muslims. Also, thanks to this election, I actually feel more protected because now I know that not only do I have the support of Muslims, but I also have the support of everyone else.”

Since Donald Trump was elected, Shereen has noticed that the network of support for Muslim students at Marquette has strengthened.

“Marquette is generally a supportive environment for everyone,” said Shereen, “and that includes Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”