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Voices of American Muslims at Virginia Tech

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As anti- Muslim rhetoric becomes part of the public and political conversation this election season, Muslims in this country feel more vulnerable.  That has Muslim students at Virginia Tech thinking about how to cope with the situation, and… how to improve it.

Current events are shining a spotlight on Muslims in this country.  And that’s both a problem and an opportunity, says Sana Rauf, a junior, studying business information technology at Virginia.

“Because,like, I love my religion but I’m just tired of when something happens in the news or when the media focuses on portraying Muslims in a certain way, but then we have to take that extra step to kind of prove ourselves and that isn’t all that fun to have to deal with but at the same time the consequence of that is that you build so many more relationships.”

Rauf says all the attention actually opens the door to conversations.  That’s what happened after someone made a threat against Muslims on campus last November, scrawling the words, “Kill all Muslims”  on the wall of a restroom in a campus building..  No culprit has been caught and the investigation is ongoing.  The university helped organize a solidarity event afterwards and provided funding for an out reach effort by the campus Muslim Students Association.

“We passed out free t shirts, saying Hokies stand together and you know college students love free t-shirts… but with that we were able to have a dialogue with them, like hey, no catch,  talk to us if you have any questions, don’t get all your news from once source."

Like Rauf, Rayan Salih is studying Business Information Technology and both are from northern Virginia.

“I think we’ve been really blessed with the Blacksburg community just because it is a college town.  You have people who have a more open-minded attitude to learning about different cultures and religions.  Because Islam, it’s mind blowing how many different cultures and backgrounds somebody can be and be Muslim."

Samee Kahn is also from northern Virginia, also studying business information technology at Virginia Tech.

“As a Muslim in America I feel like I have to keep one eye looking over my shoulder. Because I feel like I don’t know when a hateful attack could happen. However personally, and this might be  a unique opinion to me, I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault except for ours.  I think that we don’t go out enough. We don’t talk to people enough and we don't show people who we really are.  For example, you could see like almost any neighborhood church, they invite people in for meals.  And they go out of their way to bring people in and we just sit tight, pray our five times a day, have a Koran gathering where we read it like bible study, together and we don’t really reach out to people so I think the onus is on us."

Later our discussion moves on to the topic of guns in the U.S. and to school shooters.  The mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 informs our discussion, even though it happened before these students came here. And it echoes a refrain you hear more and more around here, why do these things happen, what can we do to prevent them and what about compassion for the culprits?

“A lot of times, we don’t even think about these people and where they are.  And I think it’s more important to say, all right, how can we work with these people? How can I get to this person before ISIS does? I’m supposed to be, this is my community member, and if he’s Muslim he’s my brother or sister in faith. And if there’s somebody who is a white male or female who’s thinking about shooting up a school, this is somebody who doesn’t have - who feels lonely, feels depressed, and why should they be feeling that way?  I wouldn’t want to fell that way and I don’t get to because I have community, he doesn’t, she doesn’t.  How can we bring the community back? How can we help people feel fellowship with other people so they don’t hurt the person next to them because they’re all part of the same thing; because they know that that person next to them was the one who just gave them a hug because they were feeling sad or the person next to them who just gave them a bite to eat when they were hungry. Obviously, it’s idealistic and something that people would really have to wrap their heads around to work towards, but I think the idealists are the ones who actually get things done."

Samee Khan, Rayan Salih and Sana Rauf, talking about what it’s like to be Muslim at Virginia Tech.


Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.
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