It’s a little unsettling, right?
But for Muslim students at New York University, Columbia University and other universities in the New York area, this is a very real possibility.
I encountered Article 1 on a couple weeks back and have since discovered Article 2, Article 3 and Article 4. Each article provides additional perspectives and information, so reading all of them isn’t imperative to understanding this issue.
An NYPD squad car in Times Square, New York City.
Since I read the articles, I compiled three interviews with Muslim students at the University of Florida.
Amara Fazal, a second year economics major at the University of Florida, wasn’t surprised.
“It’s not a secret that a lot of Muslim students are under surveillance,” Fazal said. “It’s almost expected, which is very sad that we should expect that kind of treatment, but we do.”
Fazal also believes surveillance happens at UF as well.
Sumrah Iqbal, a second year mechanical engineering major at UF, agrees.
“I was actually surprised that it was made such a big deal because I would expect it,” Iqbal said.
These expectations root themselves in the treatment that Fazal and Iqbal have received in various situations.
“Obviously I get stopped every time I go to the airport because I wear the head scarf. That’s just expected,” Iqbal said. “I know our family has been followed by the cops before and they’ve questioned our neighbors about us before.”
“That’s pretty much why you expect it,” Fazal said. “You know you’re being profiled.”
Fazal and Iqbal believe that the profiling is a result of a general misunderstanding of Islam as a religion, a misunderstanding with greater sensitivity for Americans because of 9/11. However, there is also a global misunderstanding.
“I would love to study abroad in Turkey,” Iqbal said, “but I know if I went to Turkey, because I wear the head scarf, I wouldn’t be allowed in any government buildings or in any universities because they banned the head scarf there.”
Why does this skewed global perception exist?
“I mean, it starts with media perceptions,” Fazal said. “After 9/11 you had the first association of Muslims as people that attack the country; you have them as terrorists. So now that you first introduce this idea of Muslims as terrorists, it’s going to be hard to separate from that image.”
“At the same time I feel like every religion goes through this at some period in time,” Iqbal said. She used the examples of President John F. Kennedy countering attacks about his Catholic faith as well as President Barack Obama countering attacks about his middle name (Hussein) and its implications.
“I think it’s a reoccurring theme and it’s frustrating that we as people haven’t been able to break out of that,” Iqbal said.
Iqbal and Fazal are both involved in Islam On Campus, a student organization that fosters an understanding of Islam within and outside of the group.
However, because of the recent news and other issues that have been ongoing for years, students are discouraged from joining groups associated with Islam, Sama Ilyas being one of them.
“I didn’t join IOC because I wanted to retain my anonymity in some way,” Ilyas, a first year biology major, said. Ilyas is also an international student from Saudi Arabia. “I’m the least bit religious, but even if I was religious, I wouldn’t go to meetings out of sheer fear, which I think is really sad.”
This really hit home for her when an IOC event was protested at the Reitz Student Union by Terry Jones and the Dove World Outreach Center, the same group that called for the Koran burning last year. Fazal and Iqbal also brought up this incident.
All three women were glad to see the turnout of Muslim and non-Muslim students to oppose the Dove Center protest with chants of, “Dove needs love!”
“I thought [the protest] was really sad, but then I was really happy to see non-Muslims protest the protest and become angered by it,” Ilyas said.
Also, as is seen in Article 1, this was the same result on Columbia’s campus in response to the NYPD surveillance. As Abdullah said in the article, “We’re now feeling a sense of unity, because this is not an issue that affects only Muslims.”
Here at UF, Iqbal, Fazal and Ilyas are grateful for the general acceptance seen on campus.
“We’re really happy and we’re really privileged to be at a university where there’s so much diversity and so much acceptance and tolerance and awareness,” Fazal said.
And while there are obvious negatives of situations like the ones mentioned, all three women recognize the positives that come out of those situations.
“I think the irony of all the hate that you see is that it’s what brings people together,” Iqbal said.
Ilyas in her residence hall.