Muslim students share their experiences at IU
Three Muslim students shared their experiences — good and bad — of life in the United States and at IU.
Haseeb Mohidden has always been a helper.
His ultimate religion is helping people, he said. His friends know him as the one who will always answer their calls for help, even if it’s 3 a.m. and they need him to go to Wells for help on a paper, he said.
Mohidden volunteers and tutors at Midway House and on campus, and dreams of joining Doctors Without Borders to help refugees and underprivileged people receive medical care. Even though he’s not Arab, he helped form the Arab Student Association at IU.
As a Muslim student at IU, Mohidden said he has never faced any discrimination, but still believes there is confusion about his beliefs.
Every day at dawn, in the afternoon, the evening, after sunset and at night, Mohidden prays. During the day, Mohidden tries to find less trafficked areas to pray, because he can’t always make it home.
He often picks the stacks at Wells, he said.
“I’ve never felt any type of prejudice, but sometimes I feel that people don’t understand why I’m doing something,” Mohidden said. “Like, I have to pray five times a day. Sometimes it’s in the library, and I don’t think people understand.”
The prayers require different positions, and attract stares, which he said makes him uncomfortable.
But aside from this, IU has been a safe place for him, he said.
In his hometown of Valparaiso, Ind., Mohidden did experience more hostility after Sept. 11.
“In middle school I was called a terrorist every now and then,” Mohidden said. “One student was beat up for being Muslim, too. He was in the 8th grade when I was a 6th grader.”
Mohidden said he hopes the events from Islamic Awareness Week will educate the campus about diversity and result in less confusion and fear.
“It wasn’t fear for me, it was more anger,” Mohidden said. “I told myself that if it was me I would fight back, but now I know it’s best to fight it with education and in a more peaceful way.”
Dana Khabbaz is one of the only women currently active in the Muslim Student Union at IU, group President Romaze Akram said. Khabbaz said she studies political science and hopes to become a lawyer, but not the kind most people talk badly about.
“I’ve always wanted to pursue the type of law that’s not viewed in a negative way,” Khabbaz said. “I want to be in the type that helps people.”
She is a member of Oxfam, Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, at IU. She said she believes in its methods of long-term fixes for problems of global issues, rather than temporary aid.
Being a Muslim and holding feminist beliefs is sometimes hard for Khabbaz, not because she thinks they are contradictory, she said, but because others do.
“People who may not know Muslims often have the perspective of it being oppressive and forcing women behind curtains,” Khabbaz said. “If you look historically, women are not oppressed and there have been lots of prominent Muslim women in leadership.”
People also don’t always understand why she doesn’t wear a head scarf. Even though she is technically of age to wear a hijab, she doesn’t.
“It’s a public statement and I’d like to grow stronger in areas of myself before I’m ready to wear it,” Khabbaz said. “I don’t want to wear it until I’m the best I can possibly be so I can represent my religion well.”
The stereotypes and stigmas that come with being Muslim are less about people being close-minded, and more about people simply not knowing any Muslims, Khabbaz said.
And preceding the issue of discrimination, Khabbaz also has family to worry about.
Her parents are immigrants from Syria. Much of her extended family still lives there, and are in danger because of Syria’s civil war.
Khabbaz hasn’t returned to Syria since the war started. She said she feels helpless when thinking about her family and saddened by what has happened despite her political stance on the war.
“At the end of the day there are men, women and children who are innocent civilians dying who aren’t involved on either side,” Khabbaz said. “I’m so used to hearing about war and stuff in other countries and it’s awful. It’s another thing when it’s the place you consider your second home.”
Almost every day, Romaze Akram dresses up with a tie, even if he’s just going to class.
“All my friends know I like to dress up,” Akram said. “A lot of people wear button downs and nice clothing at IU. It’s tough to stand out on such a large campus and this is one way I try to do so.”
He also likes to dress in basketball gear and hit the court, he said. He and a team of his friends just lost in the semi-finals of IU’s rec league.
He can be hired as a dancer, he said. He has been dancing for about eight years, mostly hip-hop and break dancing, and has been paid to dance at weddings.
When he came to IU, he said he was culture shocked. He said his expectations were completely wrong.
He didn’t think he’d fit in, he said.
“I really like the people here,” Akram said. “What I thought the people were going to be like and what they are like is so different. I remember thinking all these people were going to think, ‘He’s brown. I’m not going to like him,’ or, ‘He’s brown. He must be weird.’ But they’re not.”
In fact, he said it’s hard for him to remember a time when he’s been discriminated against here. The discrimination he has faced has been what he calls “undercover” racism.
One day, for a religious holiday in Islam, Akram was more dressed up than usual. Not just a tie, but an entire suit.
While looking at new ties to buy at a mall in his hometown of Evansville, a clerk asked Akram if he needed any help. After saying no, Akram said he noticed the clerk proceeded to follow him all around the store.
“If he expects me to steal something when I’m wearing a suit, what would he do if I wasn’t dressed as nice? Throw me out of the store?” Akram said.
Luckily, even in Evansville, this isn’t what Akram usually experiences, he said. It’s a rare occurrence.
Though Akram said he hasn’t faced discrimination at IU, he still thinks IU could do a better job of understanding and accommodating Islamic students.
“Not many people know why we fast or pray, but that isn’t just on IU,” he said. “The Muslim Student Union and Muslims can do a better job of spreading awareness.”