U’s conversations on Islamophobia are insufficient, students say

Even on the edge of a thriving Somali community, the University struggles with Islamophobic microagressions in the student population.

by David Clarey

Sidhra Musani started high school at a private Islamic school. Now, she said she is the only visible Muslim in her advanced classes.

Musani enrolled at the University of Minnesota and became president of the Muslim Students Association, but she said she still worries her classmates judge her for wearing a hijab.

“I had to think three times [about] everything I was going to say,” she said, “because I knew that there is that pressure … whether you like or not, people are [going to] judge you for what you say, and they’re [going to] attribute it [to] your faith.”

With two recent incidents at the University of Minnesota that were widely condemened as Islamaphobic and others in the Twin Cities over the last year, some Muslim community members say they fear an increase in Islamaphobic incidents.

It’s unquestionable whether Islamophobia is an issue, said Shakeer Abdullah, assistant vice president of the University’s Office of Equity and Diversity.

The shooting of two Somali men last summer on the edge of campus and an attack on a Somali woman in a Coon Rapids Applebees are just localized examples of a worldwide problem, he said.

Additionally, last week, someone vandalized the Muslim Students Association’s Washington Avenue Bridge panel with the word “ISIS,” in reference to the Islamic State terrorist organization. Flyers have also been distributed around campus that alleged that Students for Justice in Palestine is anti-semetic and linked to Hamas, a militant Palestinian group.

Minneapolis is home to a large Somali population, which adds a layer of mistrust between the Muslim community and other communities, Abdullah said.

At the University, overt and violent displays of Islamophobia are not common but microagressions are a broader issue on campus, Abdullah said.

“Those are the kind of incidents … that Muslims have to deal with on a far too regular basis,” he said.

At an impromptu meeting between the Muslim Students Association and the Al-Madinah Cultural Center after last week’s bridge defacing, students described feeling like Muslim students are statistics for the University to advertise rather than actual members of the student body.

Ayantu Hassan, a sophomore at St. Paul College, works at the Tawakal Express in the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood and said she hears about hate crimes in the Muslim community and it worries her — particularly as a female Muslim who wears a hijab.

“Sometimes, we’ll hear people walking by, [talking about Muslim people] … and you try to just ignore that kind of stuff,” she said. “At the end of the day, I’m covered, so you can see I’m Muslim … [and] most of the people getting harmed are women. It’s kind of scary.”

Faiz Jabir, vice president of the Muslim Students Association, said the issue of Islamophobia trickles from a national scale down to the University setting.

“There is a problem with Islamophobia within the campus area,” he said. “This isn’t the only place it happens. It happens nationwide, state by state.”

Hate crimes in Minnesota have declined for most minority groups, but that is not the case for the Muslim community. A recent Star Tribune analysis highlighted a surge of Islamophobic hate crimes.

There are groups that directly organize against Muslims, said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Minnesota (CAIR).

“It’s not just individuals that are not upset, but rather actual groups … whose mission is to organize against Muslims,” he said.

U tries to find solutions for Muslims on campus

The University has addressed Islamophobia on campus, but things move slowly, Abdullah, said.

“The reality is that students may not think we are responding in a satisfactory way,” he said. “Students want to see change immediately, and I think as a large institution, change comes slowly.”

Abdullah pointed to groups like the Bias Response Team and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action that try to resolve Islamophobic microagressions on campus.

BRT data obtained by the Minnesota Daily showed that three out of the 25 incidents reported since January involved hate speech against Muslims.

Musani said she doesn’t think the University does a good enough job directly addressing Islamophobia. She said campus climate conversations are helpful but aren’t solutions.

“Our job is to bring up those perspectives — we don’t necesarilly have the solutions to them, but we’re trying,” she said.

One of the first steps in addressing Islamophobia is getting people outside of the Muslim community to address it, Jaylani Hussein said.

“The best way to move away from this [type] of discrimination is when those who are challenging it are those who are least affected by it,” he said. “How do we get those [people] ,,, to be more visible against it, vocal against [it]?”

Educating people who don’t understand the Muslim community, creating dialogue and clarifying the global discussion around terrorism are all steps that need to be taken, Hussein said.

“If you look at the statistics, [you’re] more likely [to] be struck by lightning twice than be killed by a Muslim in a terrorist attack,” he said.

Still, reaching the right audience is one of the more complex issues in addressing Islamophobia, he said.

“It can’t just be Muslims talking amongst themselves about what they can do, we need to engage and we need to make sure we’re bringing persectives form the greater community,” Musani said.