Muslim students targeted in racist incidents

Poster defaced, donation money stolent from QUMSA

QUMSA External Liasion Safiah Chowdhury
QUMSA External Liasion Safiah Chowdhury

In the past week, Queen’s has been hit with multiple reported incidents of anti-Islamic crimes.

Within the span of two days, the Queen’s University Muslim Students Association (QUMSA) has been the target of a break-in to their club space and a vandalized poster in the JDUC.

QUMSA Co-Chair Isra Rafiq, ArtSci ’09, said the break in occurred between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 20.

“That was also the time QUMSA arranged for a bus to go to the mosque in Kingston. Once the bus returned, Saad [Baig, QUMSA co-chair] found the door was broken,” she said. “It was basically a wooden panel on the door because the whole door is made out of wood. It also happened to be the same panel that was replaced in the last break-in. This isn’t the only time we’ve had a break-in. … I believe the last one was a year and a half ago. The JDUC had replaced it, so it might have been someone recognized that the panel was different.”

Upon unlocking the door and entering the room, Rafiq said she found the intruder had rummaged through a filing cabinet and stolen money; QUMSA’s donation boxes that were kept in the locked office.

“We have donation boxes in the prayer space, and they’re currently bolted onto the window sill,” she said. “It’s a metal casing bolted onto the windowsill, and whoever it was that came in broke it open with a crowbar.”

Rafiq said QUMSA is still trying to calculate the exact amount stolen. “The estimate was between $400 to $900, but we have to confirm of one section of [the donations] to give a better estimate.”

The next day, between the hours of 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 21 and 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 22, a poster indicating the location of QUMSA’s club space was vandalized in the JDUC. “There’s a little bulletin board, and we had made signs earlier that said ‘Queen’s University Muslim Students Association, room 232, JDUC,’ and then an arrow,” QUMSA External Liasion Safiah Chowdhury said. “Someone had come along and written ‘should die’ beside ‘Muslim.’ The sign after that read ‘Queen’s University Muslims should die.’” Chowdhury, ArtSci ’11, said this isn’t the first time she’s been subjected to anti-Islamic comments. Chowdhury said she and Rafiq have both been targeted with derogatory comments within the last week.

“[Last] Thursday, Isra was walking along Collingwood and someone in a car drove by and yelled ‘let me unwrap you.’ It’s sexual harassment and ignorant of Muslim people,” she said. “I was walking at University and Union around eight o’clock [at night], and someone drove by and yelled something like ‘you effing terrorist,’ or ‘you effing Taliban.’” In recent years, QUMSA has been the target of other anti-Islamic incidents. In 2006, an anonymous e-mail was sent to several Qlink accounts vilifying Islam as a religion that encourages its followers to “hatred and violence.” The same year, on the eve of Eid ul-Fitr, one of the two major Islamic holidays signifying the end of Ramadan, a banner outside the QUMSA club space was set on fire.

To combat ignorance, Chowdhury said QUMSA runs a number of educational initiatives throughout the year aimed at students of all faiths.

“QUMSA does a lot of stuff like Islamic awareness week where we have a booth all throughout the week in the JDUC; we hold Fastathon where we invite people to fast with us. The prayer space is always open, usually there’s someone there,” she said. “We give out pamphlets at all our booths with general information about Islam, but our role is limited. There’s only so much we can do, and all the information we give people take on a voluntary basis.”

Chowdhury said both the incident of vandalism and the break-in have been reported to campus security and the Kingston police. To prevent another break-in, Chowdhury said QUMSA is in talks with JDUC staff to try and implement additional security measures for their club space.

“We’re trying to figure out the best course of action, because JDUC has some policies that won’t allow certain security members, so we’re trying to see what would work best for QUMSA and for the JDUC.”

Dave Patterson, director of campus security, said campus security will be evaluating the physical setup of the space where QUMSA’s office is located to prevent future break-ins.

“We would work with all the users, including JDUC staff and also the executive of the club, targeting hardening suggestions, taking a look at lock mechanisms, taking a look at various things like the door, storage of cash, those would all be things taken into consideration when we do a review and work with the group,” he said.

For the safety of QUMSA members and other users of the space, Rafiq said new safety measures have been implemented for the musalla, QUMSA’s prayer space.

“The primary concern was and always will be the safety of our members and the general Queen’s student body. If anybody was there, someone with a crow bar, late at night, you never know what they would have done.”

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