By Yasmin Merchant
In early September, New York witnessed a series of Islamophobic attacks — mostly against women. In Brooklyn, two Muslim mothers were pushing their children in strollers when they were attacked by a woman telling them to “get the **** out of America ****.” Days later, a man set fire to a Scottish Muslim tourist’s clothes while she was shopping on Fifth Avenue.
For some Muslim students on campus, the fear is, especially for those who are more visibly affiliated with the religion by wearing garments.
“Whenever there was an attack, I’d be afraid that if I go downtown, I may be a victim of a hate crime,” said Muslim student Raaheela Yusuf, FCRH ’20, who wears a hijab, in an interview with The Fordham Ram. “My mother would always tell me to be careful and to be aware of my surroundings.” She remembers a friend who began wearing a hijab in high school, and the extra measures her friend went to keep herself safe. “She has been carrying around pepper spray with her everywhere she goes,” Yusuf said.
For Sumaiya Islam, FCRH ’19, formerly a practicing Muslim who donned a hijab, the question whether to wear it at Ground Zero when she went to visit with her family was obvious. “I was scared of hate that I would receive because of it,” she said.
Recent events have only exacerbated her anxiety.
“When I found out about the woman whose hijab had been set on fire on Fifth Ave, I felt sick,” Islam said. Even though Islam herself is no longer practices her faith, she fears discrimination and how it could affect her and her family. “That could’ve been my mom, my friends, any of my relatives or people I know,” Islam said.
Joan Cavanagh, director of Interfaith Ministry, said this fear is common and justified. “Whenever there is an attack perpetrated by a Muslim, the women who wear hijabs have told me in the past they have gotten some comments which have been uncomfortable,” she said.
Comments made by presidential candidate Donald Trump cause Yusuf to feel uneasy, particularly after his call for a ban on Muslims entering America.
“One of my biggest fears is that [Trump] will become president,” Yusuf said. “I’m afraid that he will find a way to kick us out and we will have nowhere to go. We will become like the refugees that no one wants.”
Islam wants to perpetuate knowledge about her former religion and dispel the notion that it is intrinsically associated with ISIS.
“I wish people weren’t so hateful and ignorant,” Islam said.
Before 9/11, Muslims were one of the least targeted religious groups in America. According to the FBI’s annual hate crimes report, hate crimes targeting Muslims jumped 1,600 percent from 2000 to 2001. Over a decade after 9/11, hate crimes against Muslims are still five times more common than they were before 9/11.
Education, Cavanagh said, is key in fighting Islamophobia. “This election and some of the things that are said by some of the candidates have elevated the necessity for education.”
Part of Cavanagh and the MSA’s efforts to encourage conversation include an Eid celebration, also known as the Sacrifice Feast at 7 p.m. in the McGinley Ballroom on Sept. 30. The event will include an explanation about what Eid represents to Muslims and how it connects it to Christianity and Judaism.
Amira Admani, GSB ’19, a member of the MSA, said though she fears for her safety, she believes the university is a safe space for her.
“Living in a society of western culture as a Muslim has become more fearful each day,” she said. “I know that I am safe within the gates of Fordham University, a school where I recognize vast diversity and a sense of acceptance amongst those who are different in ethnicity, religion and culture.”