With the House approval of a bill that seeks to combat “worldwide” Islamophobia in response to a Republican representative’s anti-Muslim remarks, there is effort in the United States to combat varying types of discrimination. Hate crimes against Muslims rose 1617% from 2000 to 2001, according to the FBI.
Although the number of hate crimes against Muslims has dropped since its exorbitant rise immediately after 9/11, Muslims were targeted through surveillance, arrests, and raids. Through a normalization of Islamophobic rhetoric trickling down from officials to media to the general public, there has been a recent increase in visibility of Islamophobic attacks and targeting of Muslim students in university campuses.
In University of Maryland, Baltimore County, an incident was reported where a female Muslim student was assaulted by a male in the Commons. The perpetrator attempted to pull off her hijab. The university sent out a crime alert when the incident occurred, in the latter half of November. The Retriever (a university publication), reported that MSA Events Coordinator Iman Ahmed said, “It was really shocking. We didn’t expect this kind of situation to happen on a campus that pushes for diversity and generally promotes a safe space for everyone.”
Across the country in Arizona, Zain Siddiqi spoke to ICNA CSJ about a recent incident at Arizona State University, where an interfaith prayer room, mostly used by its Muslim population, was vandalized. Siddiqi is a graduate student at ASU, majoring in Business Management. He completed an undergraduate degree at ASU, and currently serves as an advisor for the Muslim Student Association (MSA). ASU boasts, according to a rough estimate by Siddiqi, around a couple of thousand Muslim students.
Siddiqi describes the scene – pages of the Quran were torn up and burned, light fixtures were damaged, and there were holes punched in the wall. A female Muslim student found the damage. University and law enforcement response was prompt – the suspect was captured in the next couple of days.
I asked Zain what the response was for Muslim students on campus. He replied that although it is quite jarring, given his age and experience, he has dealt with Islamophobic attacks in the past, leading to a sort of desensitization of the experience. ASU has been the site of previous vandalism of a masjid that is next to university buildings. Siddiqi said there are frequent protests and preachers that shout hate speech outside of the masjid, and due to ASU being an open campus, it is difficult to regulate these instances.
“There have been armed protests outside of the masjid, where they hurl insults about Islam and the Prophet (pbuh). Just a few weeks ago, someone travelled from out of state to protest outside of the masjid.”
Siddiqi said, “It was jarring to have this happen during finals week. Everyone’s on their upper echelon of stress and anxiety, and then this happens as well. You go to pray to find solace and peace, and to converse with your Lord, and instead you find that [vandalism].”
Although ASU and campus police were able to find the suspect quickly, Siddiqi expressed some concerns over the university’s inability to regulate the hate speech on campus, as well as understanding that local law enforcement can be harmful to minorities on campus due to police brutality.
As Muslims attempt to combat Islamophobia, it is important for Muslim communities across campuses to stay vigilant, and work with university administration when possible to see how campuses can better protect students of different faith minorities.