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Muslim on Campus

According to California State Universitys Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism,
Islamophobic attacks had risen sharply to the highest level since after 9/11 in 2015. The same
study suggests that Donald Trumps rhetoric against Muslims played a part in this. According to
the Southern Poverty Law Center, hate crimes in general exploded after the election, with a total
of 1,094 verified incidents reported in the month afterwards. Given that only about half of
Americans know a Muslim, and that according to PewResearch knowing a Muslim makes one
more likely to have a positive view of them, the New Juniatian decided to catch up with some of
Juniatas Muslim students for their thoughts on and personal experiences with their Muslim
identity.

Taha Barkaoui, 22, is an exchange student from Tunisia. He grew up fairly devout,
attending mosque once in a while and observing Muslim holidays, including fasting for the
month of Ramadan. Since he moved to Juniata, he said he now feels even more connected to his
religion.

Youre different and you feel proud, Barkaoui said.

Even within the Muslim community Barkaoui is a minority. For starters, he considers
himself pansexual and does not agree with the general attitude towards sexuality, especially
homosexuality. He also tries to differentiate between what he calls religious values and human
values, or values that people share. Most Muslims consider stealing to be wrong, for example,
because the Koran, the holy book of Islam, teaches it. Barkaoui, on the other hand, considers that
to just be human nature.

All religious and non-religious people share these values, Barkaoui said.

Although they are separate, they are not contradictory to Barkaoui, but complementary
and inspired from each other. Even if he were born a Christian he said his personality would not
change much because he feels connected to all religions as well as Islam.

Its not my religion that defines what I do, but my humanity, he said.

Barkaoui has yet to experience an Islamophobic attack himself (except on social media,
but he said those do not count), and for a while was not sure he could even take one in person. If
he were to experience one, however, he said he would not blame his attacker: the media tends to
only report the bad behaviors of Muslims and not the good ones. Given that, he said his mission
as a Muslim is to show people that he is no different from them.

My faith says you must smile to every person, Barkaoui said.

Sharing in that sentiment is Sayida Yari, 18, a four-year student from Niger. To combat
Islamophobia, Yari suggests simply sitting down and getting to know Muslims.

You need to undersand that Muslims arent bad people, Yari said.
In fact, Yari considers Islam the ideal way to live her life, especially when it comes to
how she was taught to treat people. For example, part of the reason Muslims fast from sunup to
sundown during Ramadan is to understand the suffering of those in poverty who do not have
enough to eat.

For a day, you are in their shoes, Yari said.

Like Barkaoui, Yari began feeling more connected to her religion once she arrived at
Juniata, although it is not connected with suddenly becoming a minority. Yari said she simply
decided she wanted to be a better Muslim. She considered the teaching that Muslims must be
prepared for the day they die and face God, and decided she was not ready. So she began
wearing the hijab, the traditional Muslim headscarf, which she did not use to do except around
family members. She now sees it not only as a sign of her devotion and modesty, but her Muslim
identity.

Without it, I feel incomplete, Yari said.

Despite women wearing hijabs being the main target of Islamophobic attacks, Yari also
has yet to really experienced one. When it comes to Islamophobic policies, she does not see any
positive change coming as long as Trump is president, and although she was upset by the travel
ban, she was really touched by the number of protests against it in airports around the nation.

Thats why I love Americans, Yari said.

Tasmia Khan, a 21-year-old exchange student from Pakistan, on the other hand, nearly
cancelled her flight. She said she was particularly shocked by Trumps election because in
Pakistan, America is often seen as the epitome of civilization and liberalism.

My whole picture of America went down like a rollercoaster, Khan said.

In the face of these policies, Khan still holds strongly onto her religion, although she
finds it harder to maintain. Among other things, mealtimes often conflict with the five daily
prayers, and Khan is bothered every time she misses one. But she does not just struggle with her
faith in America.

In Pakistan, Khan said she has come into conflict with the cultural and social norms
people try to justify as Islamic, even though they have nothing to do with Islam. Her older
brother, for example, wanted to marry a girl that her parents disapproved of because she was
outside her familys tribe and social class.

Our religion teaches us to marry someone good at heart, she said.

To Khan, Islam preaches equality, love and universal respect. It is said that the first wife
of Prophet Muhammad himself was 15 years older and much wealthier than him, and they had a
long and happy relationship. Khan even said her personality now revolves around Islams
teachings of love.

It has always promoted supporting the people you love before yourself, she said.

Khan has struggled with this herself: she also at one point wanted to get married, again to
someone her parents did not approve of. Despite knowing her parents were wrong, she decided
against the marriage knowing that it would hurt her parents and her younger sisters if she went
against them. She also believes her parents would have discouraged her sisters not to take the
same risks or attend the same school she did that helped her get to where she is today. Since
then, Khan has become the first in her family to attend an American college, on a full scholarship
no less, so Khan sees the kinds of love Islam preaches as beneficial for her as well.

Yes, back then it hurt a lot, but it did turn out to be really good, Khan said.

Omar Zniber, 20, a four-year student from Morocco, is also trying to work through the
hardships of being a Muslim. Unlike the others, Zniber has faced several Islamophobic attacks.
When Zniber was 14, he attended a soccer camp in Canada where someone came up to him and
started yelling at him and telling him he was a terrorist. He even fell out with one of his best
friends, a Jewish girl, when she found out he was a Muslim.

She punched me and wanted to beat the s*** out of me, Zniber said.

Zniber even experienced some attacks as a freshman at Juniata.

Some people came to me and said, Your religion promotes violence, he said.

When this happened, Zniber said he got really angry. Now, Zniber thinks these attacks
made him grow as a person. If someone were to attack him or criticize him now, he said, he
would engage them. In fact, Zniber said Trumps election, travel ban and rising Islamophobia
have been pretty good for Muslims.

More and more Muslims are coming out said Zniber. The support for them in the face
of the travel ban, including protests at airports has been overwhelming as well, and has even
emboldened Muslims to the point of praying publicly, while non-Muslims prayed alongside
them.

Thats one of the most beautiful things Ive seen in my life, Zniber said.

Although his parents never pushed Islam on him very much, Zniber also wants to work
towards being a better Muslim, as he feels it has made him a better person. Fasting for Ramadan,
for example, has taught him the meaning of food and water.

Water is precious, food is precious, everything is precious, Zniber said, we must help
people who dont have these things.
Zniber plans to educate himself about his religion more, attend future protests against
Trump, and be more public with him Muslim identity in general.

Thats why Im doing this interview, he said, Im trying not to hide anymore.