Religious acceptance felt at Seton Hall University
Although Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiments are becoming increasingly heightened in the United States, some Muslim students attending Seton Hall stated that they feel welcomed and respected at the University.
Of course, coming from a religion outside the Catholic tradition of Seton Hall presents certain special challenges. The University requires all students to study the Bible in specific courses. Some Muslim students interviewed for this article said they do not mind this being part of the curriculum.
Shmilah Choudhary, a senior biology major, said she was required to read the Bible for the University core class “Christianity and Culture in Dialogue.” She said that she did not mind reading the Bible excerpts because she considers it important to be knowledgeable of the world around her.
“As a lot of people know, the Quran is the holy book for Muslims,” Choudhary said in an email. “I did not mind reading the Bible, though, because I felt as though I was gaining knowledge about another religion and it never hurts to educate oneself.”
Thaha Sherwani, a sophomore diplomacy major, stated via email that her approach in her classes is to “discuss the truth about my religion and to not talk about what (and how) extremist groups have distorted the nature of my religion and what the media portrays.”
Both Choudhary and Sherwani stated that they do not feel excluded from the University community due to their faith; Sherwani said she had never experienced Islamophobia on campus and that her classmates and professors respect her opinions.
“(The University) does a wonderful job at having a Muslim community within it,” Choudhary said.
Choudhary and Sherwani also added that within the SHU community, there are organizations that Muslim students can join.
Choudhary is president of Seton Hall’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Sherwani is vice president of Seton Hall’s Arabic speaking club.
Sherwani said that she has been a part of the Arabic speaking club since its start last year. She says that the members hope that “the SHU community sees what the Arab culture is really about.”
Choudhary said the Muslim Student Association has played a significant role in her development as a college student.
“Being surrounded by students who share similar cultural backgrounds and faith, allowed me to be more comfortable and encouraged me to branch out and explore more of what Seton Hall had to offer,” Choudhary said.
Choudhary said that the goal of the MSA is to raise awareness of Islam around campus. The MSA holds events on campus and its members volunteer on a monthly basis. Choudhary said that the MSA volunteered at the NIA Masjid & Community Center soup kitchen, located in Newark.
“Some of the events we’ve had this year include ‘I Am a Muslim’ and ‘Prophetic Reflections,’” Choudhary said. “During ‘Prophetic Reflections,’ Imam Khald Latif, an Islamic scholar, spoke to students on how to keep faith in tough situations. He helped to educate us on how the prophets such as Prophet Mohammad, Peace Be Upon Him, kept faith through hardships.”
Choudhary also added that the MSA holds Islamic Awareness Week every year, which will take place this year in March after spring break. During awareness week, the MSA sets up a Dawah table, where all students are invited to ask any questions they have about Islam. Choudhary describes it as a “judgment free zone.” The purpose of Dawah is to invite both Muslims and non-Muslims to understand the Muslim faith.
Though Choudhary and Sherwani spoke of the benefits for Muslim students on campus, they also acknowledged the downsides of being a Muslim at a Catholic university.
“The Caf does not have halal options, and it would be great if SGA can work with GDS to cater to the Muslim community on campus,” Sherwani said. “Since I am a commuter I barely eat on campus, but if GDS has halal food I will definitely get a meal plan.”
Sherwani also said that a classroom was provided to Muslim students for Friday prayer because
their regular prayer space in Walsh Library was too small for group prayer. Though Sherwani’s and Choudhary’s Muslim faith has been met with acceptance, this is not the case for a lot of Muslim citizens currently living in the United States.
The rise of the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, has caused fear and distrust towards Muslims from U.S. citizens. The Nov. 13 Paris attacks, which killed 130, and the Dec. 2 San Bernardino shooting, which killed 14, were arranged by ISIS and its followers.
As a result of rising terrorist attacks by ISIS, the Senate is considering new screening procedures for Syrian and Iraqi refugees attempting to enter the United States.
The new legislation would basically suspend admissions of refugees into the country due to more rigorous background checks that the FBI and the Homeland Security Department would do.
“Due to the recent events around the word and the increased Islamophobia, Muslims
have felt a backlash,” Sherwani said. “However, it is important for the regular citizen to educate themselves about Islam through the right methods and to ignore the media and the extremists like ISIS who do not portray Islam a single bit.”