Islamic Club co-president and sophomore Iesha Said knows the uncomfortable feeling of being glared at because of her hijab and traditional dress. The 21-year-old Denver native also acutely remembers being at airport security where TSA agents swabbed her fingertips for suspected explosive residue, patted her hair over her hijab and frisked her for weapons.
Similarly, her fellow Co-President of the Islamic Club at Knox, sophomore Shayan Nadeem has also experienced the misconceptions associated with his faith, such as when a fellow student asked if “they travel by camel over in Pakistan?”
Nadeem and Said feel that these incidents are examples of current misconceptions about Muslims that became widespread after 9/11 and have intensified nationwide and on the Knox campus after the election of President Trump. Nadeem and Said thought it was now more crucial than ever to educate others about their faith and to do so in an informal setting.
“We need to have these conversations where you put yourself in another person’s shoes, then we can understand another point of view, while also learning from each other,” said Nadeem, who came up with Mocha with a Muslim, a casual meeting over coffee that promotes interfaith dialogue.
The Islamic organization held their last Mocha with a Muslim event on April 3, purposefully coinciding with Punish a Muslim Day, a made-up worldwide event where people could essentially receive points for the severity of attacks inflicted upon Muslims. The goal was so that Muslims on campus and others had a safe space to express concerns and dialogue about their faith, especially in light of fear perpetuated by the online hate event.
Initially, the event was meant to target members of Knox College, however, it soon turned into much more. It sparked the interest of Knox students and faculty, Galesburg community members and even members from neighboring towns. The organization also brought their event to the staff and faculty members at Steele Elementary school, some of whom didn’t know anything about Islam.
“In many cases, this is the first time these community members have met a Muslim person,” Said said. “So we believe there are no ‘dumb’ questions that people can ask us because this event is about learning.”
The organization sought to take their Mocha with a Muslim dialogue one step further by using their platform to open up the event to other spiritual clubs on campus so that they could have these conversations and show interfaith support for one another. The club will host their fifth Mocha with a Muslim event on April 24 and they have extended their invitation to Hillel Club, Pagan Club, InterVarsity and Newman Club.
The Director of Spiritual Life Monica Corsaro also felt like these interfaith events were not only a way to support each other, but a place where people can be curious and have these dialogues.
“The U.S. culture is not sitting at tables and having these open conversations, but rather we are more focused on debating,” Carsaro said. “This interfaith event, however, is a step to getting us back to the art of discussion.”
Senior Jeri Rosenbloom who is the Co-President of Hillel Club, also believes that conservations that seek understanding are very valuable. Rosenbloom said that she felt outraged when she saw the email exchange that occurred last week between Knox students and faculty members. The majority of emails transpired between Visiting Professor of Africana Studies Kwame Zulu Shabazz and Professor of English Natania Rosenfeld regarding Jewish and Arab issues, as well as accusations of anti-semitism.
Rosenbloom stated that some sentiments in this exchange were examples of hate. She felt excited, however, about the interspiritual dialogue that will be headed by the Islamic club because she says that beginning to have these multifaceted conversations can be a key tool in preventing hate.
“It’s a way to humanize a community instead of generalizing,” Rosenbloom said, “Maybe people have prejudices and talking with each other is a way to break them.”
Said mentioned that she was not surprised by the series of email exchanges that occurred because of the very conflicts happening between Jewish and Muslims, in regards to the persecutions of both groups of people around the world. Yet she questioned why this dialogue had not occurred earlier. This is one of the reasons she believed the email exchange between Shabazz and Rosenfeld was very valuable, in the sense that it shed light on not well talked about issues, that encompass tension on this campus such as violence, anti-Semitism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Everyone talks about atrocities that happened to the Jewish people like the Holocaust, but we need to understand that atrocities are still being carried on against both Muslims and Jews,” Said said. “And these are conversations that need to happen.”
Recent 2016 graduate Nathan Kemp, who is still an active member in Pagan club and attended the latest interfaith event on April 24, said that talking about religion is essential.
“Events like these are necessary because religion is one of the most important avenues in getting to understand people,” Kemp said.
Both Nadeem and Said agreed that having events like Mocha with a Muslims as well as incorporating interfaith dialogue is a safe space to address tensions that arise such as these on our own campus. Most importantly, these spaces provide an open door for people to ask questions and get clarifications in a controlled environment.
“We all have differences, but coming together and learning sometimes even to disagree is just another step to promoting growth,” Nadeem said.