Within a week of this new school year, fellow Muslim friends and I had already experienced a couple instances of Islamophobia. Both were derogatory slurs yelled from a moving vehicle, ensuring anonymity and suggesting cowardice.
Meanwhile, the administration is busy with some positive changes, bringing a host of new opportunities to Muslim students across campus. One significant change is the introduction of the Halal option to Leonard Cafeteria, Lazy Scholar and all other Sodexho food joints. This means Muslim students will no longer have to gather early at Ban Righ Cafeteria to ensure a piece of Halal chicken breast.
Also of note is the addition of a part-time Muslim chaplain to complement the already existing Christian chaplain (though he is an advocate for all faiths). This change benefits both Muslims and non-Muslims because we now have two aides and confidantes on campus. Specifically for Muslims though, this means we have an advisor who is aware of the rules and regulations of Islam, and is thus conscious of our situations and requirements as Muslims.
While these more institutional accommodations of religious needs are remarkable in their own right, support from the Queen’s community has been subpar, largely due to the problem of Islamophobia, which is prejudice or discrimination against Muslims and Islam. Many of my Muslim friends can relay stories of name-calling and crude looks—and from fellow members of the Queen’s community too. Yet there is a Muslim ethos of making excuses, so these stories rarely make it out of friend circles. And although most of the cases of Islamophobia on campus have been petty, it’s important these things are acknowledged and discussed, especially if it’s going to persist.
It is thus important that opinions about a religion or religious peoples are addressed head-on so sound discussion can take place. University is not a place for censorship, but rather a place for expression and the healthy exchange of ideas and opinions. As members of this community, we are not required to agree with the customs and beliefs of others; critical thinking is, in fact, encouraged. However, mutual respect is mandatory in order for everyone to have a positive learning experience in an environment that they feel safe in. Yelling something offensive and driving away is too easy an escape. It’s time to own up to prejudices.
And the onus falls upon us, the students. We can pretend discrimination doesn’t exist, especially at an institution of higher learning. Surely everyone knows better than to associate anyone who wears a headscarf with the Taliban. Islamophobia, just like all other types of discrimination, is a thing of the past, at least for the more civilized amongst us. Unfortunate as it is though, these are real views that a minority of people on campus do indeed hold.
Take for example last year’s Islamic Awareness Week. A table was set up asking people to write their immediate thoughts about Islam. While the exercise yielded many encouraging comments, it was eventually annexed by anti-Islamic propaganda. Fortunately, the setup of the table allowed for some quasi-discussion to occur as people were able to write responses to the anti-Islamic sentiments.
So I encourage everyone to use the resources available at Queen’s. If anyone has any questions or requires any clarification on anything pertaining to Islam or Muslims, then feel absolutely free to approach the Queen’s University Muslim Students’ Association (QUMSA) with your queries. It is a non-judgemental group that has likely heard it all. And if you or anyone you know has experienced Islamophobia or any other type of discrimination, it is imperative that you report it to the Human Rights Office located in Mac-Corry. Please also feel free to approach the newly formed Religious Issues Committee with any of the above.
Finally, if someone does absolutely feel compelled to yell something out their car window about a group they don’t understand or agree with, please ensure it is at least respectful and intelligible. The ever-so foolish label of ‘terrorist’ demonstrates nothing but ignorance and, regrettably enough, a lack of originality.
And although such incidents are more trivial in nature, the fact remains that there are people who feel it’s necessary to express stronger views. This past weekend, a QUMSA sign was defaced with comments that called for the death of Muslims. I can only hope incidents like this help to open our collective eyes to the larger problem.
Safiah Chowdhury is the chair of the AMS Religious Issues Committee
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