The truly infuriating side to all stories like this one is that we’re talking about schools of higher education that always include such platitudes like: “Marietta resident Kevin Paskawych, 32, said he thinks that while Marietta tends to be an inclusive place, communities can always benefit by education.” Of what kind? When do any of these sap stories ever say, “So we brought in local experts on Islamic jihad so & so and so & so, and we asked them to talk to us about what these students had to say, and . . . .” Never. Not once have I read an article from anywhere that says: “And for the other side of the story, here’s . . . .”
Awareness spawns understanding of Muslim students
February 14, 2014
By Jasmine Rogers – The Marietta Times (email@example.com) , The Marietta Times
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When they first began attending Marietta College, several female Muslim students there said students were standoffish and the community members were at times hostile. But in the aftermath of recent media attention to a third Muslim student transferring from the college, they say ignorance has turned to curiosity, opening the door for better relations with both. Now, community members and college students say the experiences of the women can be used to foster more understanding and tolerance throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley.
When 19-year-old Kuwaiti student Hawraa Kamal arrived at Marietta in the fall for her freshman year as a petroleum engineering student, she was not the first Muslim student on campus. But she was immediately noticed.
“We were the first ones to wear hijabs. Everyone was shocked,” said Kamal of herself and fellow freshman Eiman AlAbdullah. Wearing the hijab, a veil which covers Kamal’s hair, is a gesture of modesty encouraged by her Islamic faith, she said. But Kamal felt her fellow students, and even more so some community members, were standoffish because of her dress.
In a fall semester chemistry lab, Kamal could not find anyone to partner with her. “They didn’t want to work with us. The chemistry class, they were looking at me like I was a stranger,” she said. Kamal dropped the class and considered transferring to a bigger, more diverse university as the other female Muslim student had recently done. Instead, she and some other female Muslim students shared their experiences with “The Marcolian,” the college’s student newspaper.
The article spread like wildfire through campus, social media, and the local community. The reaction, said Kamal and others, has been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s changed a lot. After the article, I had a lot of people text and email me. They wanted to ask me about Islam,” she said.
Robert Pastoor, the college’s vice president of student life, said the article was an eye-opening experience for the college and its residents. “I think the unknown is sometimes scary and sometimes it’s difficult for our American students to start these conversations. And it’s difficult for our Muslim students to strike up these conversations,” he said. The willingness of Kamal and classmates to speak up generated an opportunity to open that dialogue on campus, he said.
Richard Danford, Marietta College’s vice president of diversity and inclusion agreed. “Because of this, other people have engaged with (the Muslim students) in positive ways. This has given the students a level of confidence that they belong here,” he said.
The college has also began looking for ways to provide more food and housing options for Islamic students, said Pastoor. For example, the college started serving Halal food in its campus dining hall [so far, they’ve told us they have what? 5 Muslim students?] within the last month, he said.
If the experiences of incoming petroleum engineering student Rana Al-Homoud are any indication, the campus atmosphere has certainly changed. Al-Homoud is from Saudi Arabia and wears an abaya-a floor-length cloak-in addition to her head covering. Despite that, she has felt no discrimination on campus, she said. “I feel the people here are normal. Some want to learn my language or try my food,” said Al-Homoud, 19, who started at Marietta College this semester and has only been in the community for around a month. Any negativity Al-Homoud has experienced has come from off campus, she said. One day while standing in line at McDonald’s a man ordering food with a young boy cursed at her. “He mouthed something. And I said ‘Excuse me. I didn’t hear you.’ He said, ‘F– you,'” she recalled.
Kamal told the student newspaper she faced a similar harrowing experience when she arrived on campus in the fall. While walking downtown, a man got out of a nearby car, approached Kamal and wordlessly held a cross in front of her before returning to his car.
Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said individuals should report instances of harassment or intimidation to local law enforcement. “I would suggest to anyone who feels like they are being harassed or intimidated call their law enforcement agency. I can’t speak for everyone, but from what I know about law enforcement in this area, there are not any departments that are going to tolerate actions like that,” [a man holding a cross up to a woman can’t be tolerated? No threats. No injury. And this cop says that won’t be tolerated? I wonder how he’d handle the Dearbornistan Muslim rock-throwers] he said.
Fatma Alostath, who spent three semesters at Marietta before transferring to the University of Dayton, told the student newspaper she made the decision partly because of the closed-minded community here. “People are racist [ah, spoken like a true Muslim victim; Islam is not a race] here,” Alostath told “The Marcolian” about Marietta.
Though Kamal considered transferring as well, the new campus attitude toward openness and inquisitiveness has changed her mind, she said. AlAbdullah also remained on campus this semester, said Kamal. And Al-Homoud stressed that incidents like that McDonalds’ one are isolated. For the most part, the community has been welcoming. Still, students are hoping the dialogue that has been so successful on campus will spread into the community.
In some ways it has, said Kathryn Hawbaker, minister at The First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta. [Now there’s a liberal organization if I ever heard one.] Hawbaker heard about the incident on the news and it became a discussion point for her congregation, she said. “Even in our community, we have to remind ourselves it’s easy to have misconceptions. We have to actively educate ourselves [yes, but you can’t if you don’t evaluate the data on both sides. This is clearly a subject that has two sides],” she said. . . .
Marietta resident Kevin Paskawych, 32, said he thinks that while Marietta tends to be an inclusive place, communities can always benefit by education. “How to do that is debatable. It could be introducing it to school kids, maybe having a diversity week in school and talking about…different cultures,” he said. Paskawych was a student at Marietta College when the 9-11 terror attacks occurred and recalled the Kuwaiti students on campus at the time being spit at and harassed. [That’s not acceptable, but one wonders why this reporter isn’t asking Why Did 19 Muslims Fly Planes Into the World Trade Center? so that she could then put it to our so pious Muslim girl students to find ways to wiggle out of that. At least ask. Nobody asks.]
Kamal and Al-Homoud said they believe that things like the 9-11 attacks and portrayals of Muslims in films [what? Hollywood has made sure that doesn’t happen] contribute toward people’s negative feeling toward Muslims. In an effort to help others understand their religion [you would think by now somebody would start asking: Why is it so hard for people to understand your version of your religion?] and spread a message of peace and love, the two recently participated in an event in campus handing out roses. The women say they want others to know they understand and respect all beliefs [they are playing taqiyya games].
“One of the students was asking, ‘Do you hate us?’ People might think Islam is a (hateful) religion because of September 11 and the Taliban. They think Islam told them to do that,” [which it does] said Al-Homoud.
“We would never agree with something that will hurt someone else,” added Kamal. The students say they appreciate the inquisitiveness about their religion and culture. [These women a very good at da’wah. Never tell a kafir the truth, which includes to this reporter.]
Said Al-Homoud, who previously spent some time living in Portland, “What I like here: In Portland, people already knew everything [I doubt it was all the correct stuff, but maybe they knew more than Said was comfortable with them knowing and so left town]. Here in Marietta, people stop and ask. They want to learn.” [Which isn’t going to happen until somebody stands up and gets some facts out. Like, yes, Islam is not adverse to hurting anybody, including Muslims, and 9/11 and the Taliban came out of the same theocracy.]