It was a normal, early morning when 20-year-old Shuruq Gyagenda, a Muslim UH sophomore majoring in creative writing and journalism, was traveling from Houston to Atlanta with her family. While they stopped by a gas station to fuel up on gas and perform morning prayer, they were quickly struck with fear when a US soldier, in uniform, yelled obscenities towards her and her family followed by several teasing, yet threatening antics using his giant pitbull. She recalls the confrontation as scary, and recalled the soldier as being emotionally driven.
“I assumed that the soldier’s attitude stemmed from his own personal experience with fighting in Iraq,” said Gyangenda. “I feel that if he knew that I take pride in being an American, then I don’t think he would act that way.”
Members of the UH Muslim Student Association said that even with experiences like this, in the 10 years since the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, the discouraging outlook on Muslim and Muslim faith has died down.
“I think the negative perception of Islam and Muslim people has subsided greatly, especially in areas of great diversity such as UH and Houston as a whole. I do believe that Muslims coming out of their shell and promoting the true image of Islam. Relations have gotten better. Image has gotten better,” said Imran Ghani, a business supply chain management senior and President of the MSA. “However, I’m not entirely sure about other areas in America that are without a diverse culture.”
Some areas of the US have yet to find a common ground with those who choose to practice Islamic teachings and beliefs. In a 2009 FBI report of anti-Islamic hate crime statistics, it shows that there have been 107 incidents, 128 offenses and 132 victims of hate nationwide, an increase from the year before. In Staten Island, N.Y., Fox News reported last March of a 12 year-old boy who had been accused of harassing a classmate who was Muslim and then arrested on hate crime charges.
Umer Arie, a biochemistry senior at UH, said that the mindset of skeptics and extremists have given up trying to comprehend and understand, opting instead for plain rudeness.
“Some people ask me questions just to be offensive. If they wanted to offend me, I wouldn’t answer them because my answer would be negative towards them no matter how I answered,” said Arie.
In addition to the bitterness and violent action towards Muslims, racial profiling has also seen a spike in occurrences, especially in airports. Psychology sophomore Bailee Schuhmann said that she knows of at least one incident concerning friends and family members of her Muslim boyfriend.
“He has a cousin who is from Sweden,” Schuhmann said. “It took him 3 hours to get off of the plane because security wanted to double check him. Another friend of my boyfriend was completely strip searched because she had a child and the undergarment she was wearing was used to help carry her child. They strip searched her because the security thought she was carrying something dangerous on the plane. She felt really embarrassed.”
Many UH Muslim students feel that the best way to help skeptics and extremists to see the Islamic community in a brighter light is to defend their beliefs with pride. For Aman Ali, a Muslim comedian and writer who wrote recently wrote a guest opinion article for CNN, the defense of Islam doesn’t mean begging the rest of America for forgiveness after what happened 10 years ago.
“Why are mainstream American Islamic groups like the Islamic Society of North America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council still condemning the attacks and just about any other act of terrorism that pops up in the news? Weren’t we clear before how we feel about terrorism? If people didn’t understand us for the past 10 years, what makes Muslims think they’re going to understand us now?” Ali said in the CNN article.
The Muslim Student Association continues to do its best to educate the uneducated. While the group provides a website full of information about the organization and the various events they host each semester, ultimately their goal is to reach out to the public. The group uses their voice and knowledge of Islam to not only express themselves even more freely than ever before, but to also show the fact that the attacks on 9/11 is highly looked down upon in Islamic society — they want to show that an act committed by a few does not necessarily represent the views and beliefs of people as a whole.
The President of MSA cites a movie, “Khuda Kay Liye,” that describes the story of two male Pakistani singers who traveled to the US to study music, but separate down the line and lead different lives, one being a terrorist that moved back to Pakistan, the other a husband to a white, Christian woman. Because of 9/11, the one who stayed in the US ended up being severely interrogated by the FBI to the point where he received brain damage and was deported back to Pakistan. Ghani feels that the movie is used to ultimately deliver this message:
“I do not hate Americans just because of their injustice on me. I am not going to hate an entire people. I can only hope that American people do not hate all Muslims just because of the actions of a few Muslim people.”