April 27, 2012 Leave a comment
When Tasneem Daud goes to Allen Fieldhouse to cheer for the basketball team, sometimes people just stare.
Sometimes they look curiously, giving a slight head-nod to acknowledge Daud as just another KU fan. But sometimes they seem to disapprove. They whisper to their friends. They give a suspicious glance. They roll their eyes and shake their heads.
On paper, Daud is your typical graduating senior at the University of Kansas. She grew up in Kansas City, she has lots of Jayhawk pride, and she works on an old clunker laptop that she just hopes lasts her until the end of finals.
But people notice that Daud is a Muslim woman because she wears a hijab headscarf — a veil that some women use in accordance with their Islamic faith.
“It’s sad to encounter those who perceive you as being something foreign,” Daud said. “That’s how it feels, that I’m an object or an idea that represents something so unfortunate, or diabolical.”
While Daud, the vice president of the KU Muslim Student Association, hasn’t experienced major instances of discrimination on campus, she said it’s the smaller stuff like the basketball game incident that are an issue.
“I feel that, but at the same time I’m also feeling very proud and it empowers me,” Daud said. “They’re looking at me, but there’s nothing that’s going to change. These are probably some of the strongest beliefs and values that I have.”
These strong beliefs, and the discrimination that comes with it, are shared with many Muslim students in the KU community. It may not be as big as the recent news about the New York Police Department’s spying on Muslim students in the city, but it does raise questions into how Muslim students feel their First Amendment-backed rights to religion and expression are supported.
According to the latest FBI statistics, 13.2 percent of reported, religiously charged hate crimes in 2010 were anti-Islamic. This is almost a four percentage point increase from 2009, and a 5.5 percentage point increase from 2008.
Graduate student Ibrahim Alanqar, a past president of MSA, also said the KU campus has a different atmosphere of acceptance of Islam.
“My experiences on campus weren’t too negative,” Alanqar said. “But I’ve felt it sometimes in western Kansas, when I drive to Colorado.”
If he goes on a long road trip, Alanqar sometimes stops at highway gas stations for prayer. And the looks he gets make him sensitive about his surroundings when he does pray in a public place.
“When I stop I can see the looks,” Alanqar said. “It makes me feel insecure. It’s always in the back of my mind that somebody may just come and hit me or something, especially in rural areas where many people don’t really have information on Muslims.”
Alanqar talks about an insensitive comment he received at Anschutz Library. Click HERE to listen to him.
Alanqar and Daud both said they have felt discrimination in places outside of campus like public events and airport security.
“I’ve been singled out,” Daud said. “A lot of it has been looks and comments and just really people making you feel overwhelmingly unwelcome.”
Alanqar has experienced the same thing, but noticed a difference in cities with a larger Muslim population.
“Chicago is great because it’s diverse,” Alanqar said. “I was in the airport and it was time for prayer. I asked the guy where is the north direction because I need to know where Mecca is. But he just pointed to the direction of Mecca because he knew it and knew I needed to pray.”
Daud thinks the campus could be more educated on Islam, and that’s what MSA is for.
“In the context of University life, in the interaction with students and teachers, I’ve found it to be more engaging than discriminatory,” Daud said. “But unfortunately it’s still at the point where more people don’t ask, than ask.”
As student leaders on MSA, Daud and Alanqar have heard Muslim students’ concerns about questions and comments about their faith from other students whom don’t seem educated.
“In MSA, the goal is not to preach or convert people,” Alanqar said. “It’s to increase awareness of Muslims on campus and what Islam is.”
Daud sees the student organization as a way to build camaraderie and community with people of the same faith, but also as a way for non-Muslims to see how Muslim students are not so different from themselves.
“We have to change how we see each other,” said Daud, referencing her perception of the looks she gets at basketball games. “We need to build a sort of dialogue.”