July 20, 2019 | 83° F

Rutgers center holds conversation about what it means to be Muslim in modern-day America

Photo by Ana Couto |

For two hours, professors, graduate students and Muslim members of the community shared their experiences and talked about what it means to be Muslim in modern-day America. The conversation took place on Wednesday and was organized by The Center for Race and Ethnicity.

On Wednesday afternoon, The Center for Race and Ethnicity presented "Muslims in America: A Conversation," with the goal of educating Rutgers students about what it means to be Muslim in present-day America.

This two-hour forum focused on creating a conversation among students. This meant having people share their experiences while others who wanted to learn more attended, said Mia Bay, a professor in the Department of History and director of the Center for Race and Ethnicity.

Speakers were comprised of professors, graduate students and Muslim members of the Rutgers community, according to their flyer.

These included Donna Auston, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology, Dr. Sylvia Chan-Malik, a professor in the Department of American Studies and whose current research focuses on the history of Muslim women in the United States, Kathryn Goldstein, a doctoral candidate in the Department of English and Dr. Hakim Zainiddinov, who received his Ph.D. in Sociology from Rutgers in 2016.

They each shared parts of their research and personal experiences related to the topic at hand.

“We basically asked the panelists to speak very briefly, maybe for about five to seven minutes ... then we’re kind of just opening it up to a wider discussion. So it's not necessarily that we have a very focused agenda in mind, it's just to gather as many thoughts about the topic of being Muslim in America,” said Tasia Milton, a graduate assistant at the Center for Race and Ethnicity.

In terms of what students were able to take away from the forum, Bay said they were given an opportunity to think about the different types of Muslim-Americans in the country, the history of Islamophobia and various forms of discrimination that they face.

Conversations also delved into the ways in which these issues can be intersectional, and how appearance and gender also play a role in the degree of discrimination a person might face.

Allison Harbin, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art History, said she hoped students left the event with a more nuanced understanding of the topic.

“I would hope (they acquired) a sort of tolerance and a willingness to let go of the fear of difference. I think the fear of difference is what is dividing us and is being used as a political tool, and I think if we can all come together and have conversations we realize that we’re all humans. So hopefully this was a way for like-minded people to come together and have an honest conversation,” Harbin said.

Bay said when planning the event, they had to research who on campus had the expertise to discuss the topic, and then worked to bring together graduate students and faculty, she said. 

The center’s operating concept is the idea that the topics of race and ethnicity can not be handled from the perspective of just one discipline. It will take many great minds to work together to try to get to the heart of an issue, Milton said.

“So we bring together scholars from the fields of the humanities, from the social sciences ... to think about these issues, and also to think intersectionally about these issues,” Milton said.

The Center for Race and Ethnicity has more events scheduled throughout this semester, Bay said, including film nights, where they hope to watch a film on race riots in Wilmington, Delaware. 

One of our main goals at Rutgers is to create a dialogue among the different departments and among all professors. Rutgers is such a huge place with a lot of diversity and one of our goals is to bring all of these groups together, Harbin said.

“The center was founded under this idea of promoting an interdisciplinary conversation where scholars could further their own research interests but that we could also reach out to the larger student body," Harbin said. "This conversation attracted both graduate students and undergrads and it was a really lovely thing."

Ryan Stiesi is a sophomore in the School of Arts and Sciences. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. 

Ryan Stiesi

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