Article and Photography by: Ijeoma Unachukwu
For this issue, Voice Magazine sat down with the Rutgers Ahlul- Bayt Student Association (ABSA). ABSA is a Muslim organization that strives to educate people about Islam, build communities, promote diversity and inclusiveness, and advocate for the voice of social justice, among others. Last year, they helped a campaign to combat Islamophobia and show people what Islam is actually about. They also held a candlelight vigil for the children who died in the 2014 school shootings. Through all their events and service projects, they aim to show that Islam is truly about peace and acceptance. Voice Magazine interviewed some of the members of ABSA and asked them about Islam, Islamophobia, and how they express their voice.
Hibah Iqbal: [Being Muslim] is a way of life. It tells you how to shape your life and personality. The basis of being Muslim is being a good person and caring for others. It’s kind of sad when you see your people and your culture being represented in such a negative light when you truly know it’s such a positive religion and peaceful religion.
Hiba Fatima: We have such a strong community and we have really close ties with each other. So, being Muslim means reaching out to people who don’t necessarily have that and to really be the helping hand for anyone who needs it. One of the fundamental teachings is that it does not matter if somebody is Muslim or not. If you see them, it’s your duty to give it to them and to do whatever you can to help them even if it means sacrificing.
I have a friend and when I first met him he told me I was the first Muslim he had ever met. He had been going to catholic school since before elementary school. Some of the misconceptions he had shocked me. My friend told me that all he had ever seen of Muslims was on the news, ISIS videos and things like that. We’re really good friends now because we sat down and talked about everything he didn’t understand. Now if anybody says anything ignorant he’ll call them out on it. Sometimes people who are Islamaphobic don’t mean it. It’s just the information has been presented to them in such a biased way that they don’t know how to think otherwise.
Taqi Khan: The Quran says that knowledge is key. With knowledge, you spread peace. Our voice is heard by how we act in public, it’s one of peace. Because of my last name, Khan, people have generalized me to be a terrorist. I used to live in Carteret, New Jersey and got into many fights in that school because after 9/11, people would ask me if my father was ever a terrorist. So I just started trying to be nice to them and I made a lot of friends that way. I would make jokes out of it too and ended up teaching them what our Islam means. I think our voice can be heard by telling the people who may think bad about us what we’re actually about.
Maleeka Abbas (SAS 2016) I would like to discount the myth that women are oppressed. I think that it comes from focusing on the Arab world. You see that women in general aren’t given basic rights, like being let to drive or normal rights. You have to look at it in a broader perspective. It’s not necessarily religious, but their own cultural aspect which is a whole different thing. We as a collective society do not represent what one country is doing.
Mudassar Zaidi (SAS 2017): A lot of cultures have taken Islam and changed it or perverted it and taken the meaning out of its context and I think that’s where a lot of problems stem. They let their religious leaders put out rulings that may not be true or have any solid foundation. Then a lot of people just follow out of fear. Islam itself is a very peaceful religion and does not promote violence.
Sayed Raza (SAS 2016): Islamophobia definitely exists, but it’s not everywhere. We don’t want to victimize ourselves and say that islamophobia exists and we’re always being subjected to it. There are cases of it and it’s scattered. There are different states that have different reputations and views. In New Jersey, personally, I’ve never been subjected to anything of that sort. I’m sure there are people who discriminate. We want to focus on the full view, the good and the bad.
Fatima Abidi (SAS 2017): It’s hard to be heard, especially living as a Muslim in America, especially if you wear a hijab. Obviously people are going to focus on what you wear on your head and not what your actually speaking about. I’m a very talkative person and I like being heard. When somebody doesn’t hear me just because I’m Muslim that bothers me. In order to be heard you have to speak from the heart and say what you mean.
We live in such a diverse area and go to a really diverse school, but regardless of that, there’s still islamophobia. I was on the road one day, sitting in traffic and I turned around and this guy is in the car next to me and looks at me and screams, “Terrorist!” and drives away. I didn’t know what to do! I had no words to say! These experiences pave the way for how you act and respond later in the future. Another friend of mine works in a pharmacy and she couldn’t give a certain customer a prescription. The customer got mad and told her, “Why are you telling what to do? I’m an American”
Riyaz Abidi (EJB 2016): There’s inter and intra-islamophobia, amongst Muslims. The one that is amongst Muslims is that when they see racism against them in the outside world, they’re afraid. They’re afraid to use the rights they have as being an American citizen, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Islamophobia still exists in media, especially if you look at the election. The most common topic in the elections is: Would you let a Muslim run for president? Would they impose Sharia law on American laws? Why are they having an issue with a Muslim running for president when there is no Muslim candidate? These are things that add up and accumulate to certain Islam propaganda. When any mass shooting happens how come it isn’t considered an act of terrorism. Why is it that when a Muslim does it, it’s an act of terrorism? How come a Muslim can’t be mentally ill?
So how do we express our voice? Muslims should be active in their community, politics, community service and get their voice out instead of trying to stay under the radar. They should go into politics and go into the public eye. Especially in this country, we lack that ability. We are too scared to do that and we need to overcome that fear. You should not be looked at as an American-Muslim, but just an American citizen. If that was the case, I would look at everybody as a Catholic-American, a Buddhist- American, an atheist citizen. The biggest thing is making people aware and having more people in media and politics.