Muslim students discuss experience post-Sept. 11

by Tracy Landers | 5/7/02 5:00am

Six Muslim students at last night's "I'm Muslim, I'm American" panel told a small audience in Dartmouth Hall about their common experiences as North American followers of Islam, sharing the common doubts and difficulties they have faced since Sept. 11.

While each speaker acknowledged that the events of last September have provided a valuable forum for discussion of their faith, several said they feared their peers were more skeptical of their American identity.

"It seems more and more I am besieged by challenges to my faith. I don't want to be constantly defending Islam. It's very draining," Aly Rahim '02 said.

Though the speakers agreed with Rahim's assertion that he has never faced overt ignorance or hatred at Dartmouth, their experiences show that practicing Islam at Dartmouth is often a challenge.

Living at Dartmouth "requires a lot of loneliness. I find myself in my room Friday and Saturday nights reflecting," Ahmad Rahim '04 said. He said his first year at Dartmouth was especially difficult due to the campus-wide emphasis on alcohol and the Greek system.

"I came here with lots of high expectations. But people seemed just as superficial as in high school," Ahmad Rahim said. Though this is not a uniquely Muslim complaint, Ahmad Rahim's twin brother Mustaffa Rahim '04 also expressed concerns about the "sincerity" of the student body.

"Even educated people say 'Yeah, Islam is a beautiful religion but you still abuse your women right?'" Mohamad Bydon '02 said, illustrating that the hardest thing about being Muslim was the misconceptions shared by the American public.

Nevertheless, none of the Muslim students said life at Dartmouth has shaken their religious beliefs.

"The move to Dartmouth was a culture shock. If anything it has strengthened my faith," Asya Mu'Min '00 said. "If I have to suffer for my beliefs, that's what I'll do."

She said nothing could make her take off her traditional female head-covering because she was not ashamed of her religion.

"Islam has a way of giving a deep sense of dignity and empowerment to the most downtrodden," Bydon said. He went on to defend fundamental Muslims as being very different from secular Arab dictators with whom Islam is often equated.

"Saddam is as far from being a Muslim fundamentalist as John Ashcroft. I kid you not," Bydon said. Mustaffa Rahim said also expressed and defended fundamental Islamic beliefs.

"I am a fundamentalist. I'm fundamentally in love with my Lord. I follow all the fundamentals of my religion," he said. His brother compared the beliefs of the suicide terrorist to the extremist beliefs of Timothy McVey.

All panelists shared an obvious pride in being Muslim, several of whom said Muslims did not and should not feel the need to apologize for the events of Sept. 11.

Despite their unshaken confidence in Islam, the speakers shared the mixed and intense emotions that last September evoked in them.

"The first thing I thought was, 'Please don't let these people be Muslim,'" Aly Rahim said. Anger and regret were common emotions as well.

"I felt angry at the perpetrators of the attack but also at Americans for pinpointing Islam," Ahmad Rahim said.

Amanda Jaber '05 said she was sad that her Muslim mother felt too uncomfortable to travel during the month of September. She bid her daughter farewell from her home in Florida, and Jaber went off to Dartmouth for the first time alone.

At the same time, all the speakers supported Ahmad Rahim's assertion, "Being Muslim and being American can definitely go hand in hand, they always have and they always will for me."