A recent convert to Islam, 18-year-old freshman William Shutze, said he was walking back from class when some guy pulled him aside to talk about Jesus.
While some the Muslim community as a whole experiences intolerance in different forms, Muslim students say such instances on campus are rare. One organization on campus, the Muslim Student’s Association, works to prevent such bias. Layal Al-Roomi, a 22-year-old junior international affairs major from Saudi Arabia and an officer for MSA said the goal of the group is to erase the stereotypes might think they know about Muslims.
“Now since I like talking about religion, I didn’t mind,” said Shutze, a Russian and international affairs major and a member of MSA.
The person who pulled him aside, he said, described himself as a born-again Christian, and eventually Shutze agreed to attend a church congregation on campus.
“After the sermon the pastor wanted to talk to me on a one-on-one basis because he knew I was a guest,” Shutze said. “So we started talking and eventually reached the subject of me being a Muslim. Well, his eyes became the size of golf balls and he decided to go ahead and start telling me that my religion is a lie and that all other religions are a lie, and the five pillars of Islam are no good and our vision of judgment days is wrong.”
Shutze said although the evangelical Christians started to more aggressively pursue his conversion back to Christianity, they eventually learned he wouldn’t budge from his position and he never heard from them again.
“I was hoping they would want to learn about [my religion] too, so I could promote peaceful understanding because Christians and Muslims don’t get along too well on a large scale, so I was hoping I could promote tolerance,” Shutze said.
“At this point I could have just said, ‘Okay, I don’t want to be Christian, I don’t want to be around you guys because you continue to attack me,’ and I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do that. I was hoping that it would settle out peacefully, and that they’d eventually be okay, we can be tolerant too,” Shutze said.
He said the incident was not his usual experience on campus.
“People are typically very, very, very accepting,” Shutze said. “I mean, in fact most people, they’re surprised when I tell them I’m a Muslim, but it doesn’t change their opinion of me. Religious intolerance on this campus is very, very, very rare and the so-called ‘religious intolerance’ happens when someone tries to force opinions on them.”
Imam Zaid Shakir, an Islamic scholar and an American Muslim, was invited to the 6th annual Islam Awareness Week by the MSA as a way of raising productive dialogue on the practice of Islam during a period when public perceptions of it are often based in biased rhetoric.
In an interview with the CU Independent, Shakir stipulated the differences between discrimination and intolerance.
“In many different ways, generally, if any individual or group actively strove to deny the adherence of another group on campus to present their ideas or to practice their faith, those would be manifestations of intolerance,” Shakir said.
He said in his speech during Islam Awareness Week that the Muslim community experiences intolerance in different forms.
“A lot of Muslims are under siege,” Shakir said. “Pick up a book and the authors are hating on Muslims. Go to school and people look at you funny. And a lot of Muslims are getting beaten down.”
Al-Roomi said MSA is about bringing the Muslim community together and teaching other people how the real Muslims are.
“A lot of people think that Islam is a violent religion, a lot of people see us like, Muslim girls, who wear the scarf that they’re like, oppressed and they’re forced to wear it,” Al-Roomi said.
Al-Roomi is herself a wearer of the scarf, but said she chose to wear it.
“I chose to, yes,” Al-Roomi said. “It’s my own decision to wear it. When I wear it, especially here, even back home, but people treat me in a respect[ful] way. It’s a piece that represents my modesty, my integrity.”
However one experience Al-Roomi said she had in London after the London bombings in 2005 was an instance where someone assumed the worst of Muslims.
“Two days after the bombing, we were waiting for the bus and then we saw everyone getting off the bus…then there was a lot of policemen gathered, and then two guys came up to us and one of them was so mad,” Al-Roomi said. “There was a bag left alone on the bus so they were scared.”
Al-Roomi said everyone then switched to a different bus but that one of the two men was looking at her weird.
“He just kept like, screaming, and he was just like, ‘Oh, what are you doing, why are you here, why are you in our country?’ and then, ‘You teach your kids to learn how to bomb us since they’re young,’ blah blah blah,” Al-Roomi said.
Al-Roomi said she just asked him to ask her anything about her religion, but that he didn’t even ask, just looked at her and kept shouting and screaming.
“It hurts, yeah it does,” Al-Roomi said. “But sometimes I don’t blame them cause they’re scared. But they shouldn’t treat every single person the same way. Don’t judge the majority based on the minority group.”
Contact CU Independent News Budget Editor Sheila V Kumar at Sheila.firstname.lastname@example.org.