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MSA Hosts Dialogue On Contextualizing Islamophobia

NYUAD’s Muslim Student Association hosted a mediated discussion in the wake of recent events in France that sparked a heated debate about freedom of expression and a wave of Islamophobic rhetoric.

Nov 28, 2020

On Nov. 20, the NYU Abu Dhabi Muslim Students Association hosted an online discussion entitled Contextualizing Islamophobia. The session was mediated by John O’Brien, Associate Professor of Social Research and Public Policy and author of Keeping it Halal, a culmination of intensive fieldwork around the social lives of Muslim American teenagers.
“We chose John O’Brien because his research primarily focuses on social identity [and] immigration … in Islam … post] 9/11 and the effect it has on youth,” explained Museera Moghis, Class of 2022 and Vice President of MSA.
“[The MSA] decided to host this event … primarily in light of the recent developments in France,” shared Farah Sadek, Class of 2021 and Secretary of MSA, referring to the wave of Islamophobic rhetoric in the wake of the beheading of a school teacher for showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on Oct. 16 and the killing of three people in an attack on a church in Nice on Oct. 29.
“[We] wanted to better contextualize what was happening, because a lot of times what we hear in the media is … very shallow and it’s important … to dig deeper and … understand the root causes,” said Sadek. “Being analytical and reflective… and having an event where everyone can come together and share their perspectives … was important.”
She emphasized the importance of a broader discussion around Islamophobia which doesn’t just focus on isolated incidents to better help understand how to respond.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement on Oct. 2, where he described Islam as “a religion that is in crisis all over the world today” and announced measures to address a “parallel society” of Muslims whom he views as prone to radicalization, prompted backlash from Muslim activists. His subsequent decision to not renounce the Charlie Hebdo caricatures of the Prophet following the Oct. 16 killing prompted anti-French protests in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Lebanon.
“For us, it was also really important to address [freedom of speech] ... asking questions about where do we draw the line and what is the definition of freedom of speech … Understanding this dynamic in relation to Islamophobic rhetoric, while also understanding that … there’s no one way of solving [this] ... but getting together and having a discussion,” said Sadek.
Suman Ansari, Class of 2022, shared her motivations to attend : “I attended because … the topic was relevant to me as a Muslim hijabi. I was interested to see [where] ... other perspectives were coming from.” She added that conversations she had with her friends before the event left her not knowing what positions she took and that she struggled to ascertain an appropriate response.
“The media … minimizes all the stuff that happened into one single event … but, when we broke it down [at the event], I was reminded of how … each of the different events affected people differently,” said Ansari.“To me what struck the most was the hijabi women who were attacked under the Eiffel tower … I was in Paris earlier in the year, and … in my head [I thought]... that could have been me.”
On her experience of the event, Ansari said, “It did feel like a safe space to process what happened … I don’t think I realized how much it affected me until I was in that Zoom call … I realized that even though it doesn’t impact me directly, there are still repercussions that I will face … and people like me will face… It was nice to speak about it.” She further added, “It was nice seeing that … non-Muslims [also attended, who were] willing to listen [to your side of the story].”
Sadek emphasized that the event, like other similar MSA programming, was aimed at sparking dialogue not just within the Muslim community but among non-Muslims as well.
While most of the attendees were Muslim, there were a few non-Muslims who attended. Dhvani Khakhar, Class of 2022, shared: “I believe combating [Islamophobia] is not only [the Muslim communities’] responsibility, more so because … anti-Muslim sentiment [arises] from non-Muslims.”
Khakhar emphasized the divisive role news media can play when presenting only one side of the story: “By hearing directly from Muslims about their thoughts and grievances about what happened, it really [helps] put things into perspective.”
Angad Johar is Senior News Editor. Email him at
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