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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Muslim students deserve more awareness

Published: April 4, 2014
Section: Opinions

This week, Brandeis’ Muslim Student Association hosted their annual Islam Awareness Week, a series of events designed to break down stereotypes and increase non-Muslim students’ knowledge about Islam. This year marked a higher attendance in various events, many of which were centered around highlighting the social issues that Muslims face around the world today. Islam is, after all, a religion of over one billion people. Yet in Western countries, Muslims are often portrayed very negatively in media and popular culture, serving as villains or terrorists. Islam Awareness Week seeks to fight that on a human level, by bringing students together, but the administration has fallen short of supporting this on campus.

As an institution that prides itself on a representative of social justice, Brandeis is designed to promote religious diversity and tolerance. But occasionally, the atmosphere on campus says otherwise. Brandeis’ student body is majority Jewish, and the majority of religious clubs on campus are related to Judaism. While each major denomination of both Judaism and Christianity has their own prayer spaces, Muslim students at Brandeis are designated a shared space in Usdan. Unlike the Judeo-Christian prayer spaces, the Muslim prayer space has been vandalized several times, most recently when the words “enter here in peace and solidarity” were cut from the space’s welcome sign. The still-unknown perpetrator also stole Dr. Imam Talal Eid’s personal Qu’ran, which had many notes the Imam used for his lectures during Friday prayers. Combined with the fact that posters for Islam Awareness Week were taken down without explanation (which severely inhibited MSA’s ability to advertise the event) it is clear that Brandeis could do more to make the campus more inclusive of Muslim students.

While Islam Awareness Week is a great way to spread awareness about modern Islam and Muslim students at Brandeis, the aforementioned issue with advertising and the lack of administrative support is telling. Muslim students at Brandeis deserve more visibility. This is particularly poignant given that Brandeis is a university that often throws administrative support behind events that spread awareness around Israel. Furthermore, during the online flame war that took place on the Brandeis Israel Apartheid Week Facebook page, many of the more abusive comments were virulently Islamophobic.

These types of incidents make MSA members uncomfortable with the way they may be seen on campus and this is simply unacceptable. Many students come to Brandeis not only for its academic pedigree, but also for its commitment to social justice and international programs. With so many clubs on campus dedicated to battling social inequality and other problems in the world, it is simply hypocritical for any student to feel like an outsider because of their religious beliefs.

Again, there are more than one billion Muslims worldwide, and they deserve as much respect as any other people of faith. Brandeis, which often talks of helping students achieve life goals and create new generations of global leaders, must be more proactive in creating a modern space in which everyone is represented fairly. The administration should work with Muslim students at Brandeis to create a campus that is not only diverse, but also fair and inclusive, and openly supported. Otherwise, we will have a campus where only some students feel comfortable in expressing their religious and cultural traditions, which is antithetical to the school’s mission, as well as unfair. Israel Awareness Week only goes so far and is only one week out of an entire year. These students need to be supported and accepted every day.