Letter to the Editor: Tulane fails to address needs of Muslim students, takes no initiative against Islamophobia

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On March 15 a White nationalist massacred 50 worshippers at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The vast majority of the victims of this attack were immigrants, people who had struggled through multi-year immigration processes to arrive in New Zealand, only to be killed by an Australian foreigner in their home. Each of these victims has a story of struggle and hardship that ended sharply when a perpetrator– who we will not dignify with a name–brutally executed over fifty members of our community. The devastation felt by the Muslim community of New Zealand was one also felt heavily by our Muslim community in the United States.

As we learned about each victim’s story we also learned how strikingly similar they were to our own. Their tales about facing oppression and confronting hatred reminded us of our own families’ journeys to succeed in a new country. Our brothers’ and sisters’ massacre in New Zealand is a harsh reminder that we, too, live in a fragile state of acceptance. International and domestic white nationalism has warped our place of solace and worship, the mosque, into a place of fear. When we read the stories of Husna Ahmed, Khalid Mustafa, Hamza Mustafa, and Talha Naeem we see a reflection of our mothers, our fathers, our siblings, and ourselves praying in the mosque at just another Friday Jummah afternoon. It only takes one individual to view us as less than human, as less than himself, to leave a searing remark of hate on our community forever. This is a paralyzing moment for Muslims that causes us to think of how our communities resemble that of the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch.

Ultimately, the attack has impacted our community and myself more intimately than I could have expected. I could not bring myself to go to Friday prayer, and begged my family at home to do the same. This attack gave me and every Muslim I know a new fear that our safety was not guaranteed. Thankfully, our Muslim Students Association was able to organize events for our community that week to help us all come together to cope and mourn. It has been a therapeutic and affirming act of agency to be able to come together as a community in these times.

This loss has forced us to reassess our position within our communities here in the West, and for our MSA specifically, within our community at Tulane. While we looked to our administration and university to provide us with support, we found that only a handful of other minority organizations were willing to give us a kind word or extend an offer of their help. Unlike the majority of our peer insitutitions, there has been no formal statement from the Office of the President or any acting member of the higher administration. While many of us were initially upset at this lack of a response, it is not unexpected. In our personal experiences, we have found that the Tulane community is either ambivalent or even outwardly hostile towards its Muslim members. During Tulane Welcome Week’s spiritual and religious celebration, there was no programming directed towards Muslim students despite student-led efforts. When our organization attempted to set up an ice cream social event that day, we were told that we would need to host it on our own property, despite us being the only religious group on campus without physical infrastructure of our own. Tulane’s religious studies minor requires courses on subjects from Medieval Christianity to mythology, but there is only one course regarding Islam offered to students. The class is not even eligible for credit to the minor in spite of the fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion with 1.6 billion worshippers.

Perhaps the greatest injustice is how the Muslim population at Tulane is given only a closet in the basement of the LBC to use as a prayer room that doubles as a break room for LBC staff and a storage closet for the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Our faith obliges us to keep a prayer space clean and respected, but the use of the room as a dining area and storage closet has made prayer difficult and inconvenient. This space also only came after years of requests to and haggling with an unwilling administration. When our administration does only this much for our community, how much of a response can we expect following the events of March 15?

Instead of only mourning our lost brothers and sisters in Christchurch, we are choosing to stand up to the injustices in our Tulane community in hopes that our university becomes a more welcoming institution for current Muslim students and those who will attend Tulane long after we graduate. We challenge Mike Fitts and the rest of the administration to finally recognize what we as a community contribute to Tulane, and to work to make Tulane somewhere where we feel that we are respected and our presence is noted. When our national president advances an islamophobic agenda with phrases such as “Islam hates us” and mainstream television networks claim that hijabs are anti-American the day after a major terrorist attack against Muslims is the time when, more than ever, we need support and protection from those we expect it from.

We give thanks to those who have reached out with words of kindness and support. We give thanks to the steadfast allies that have emerged around the world from this tragedy. We give thanks to the courage of New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who has demonstrated her respect for our faith through her refusal to let our suffering go in vain. Our hope is that our administration will soon rise out of the ranks in a similar fashion.

​If you would like to do your own part, please donate to the victims of the attack through this link: https://www.redcross.org.nz/donate/where-the-need-greatest/

Sincerely,

Murad Laradji and Shahamat Uddin on behalf of the Tulane Muslim Students Association