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LETTER: Muslim Rutgers graduate students are affected by ban

Around this time last year, many of us took to the streets to protest President Donald J. Trump’s Executive Order 13769, commonly known as the "Muslim ban." While the public demonstrations have been somewhat successful in limiting the effects of the executive order, there have been quite a few negative implications caused by the ban including some casualties. One such casualty on our very own campus is the Graduate Muslim Student Association (GMSA). 

Unlike their undergraduate counterparts, the majority of Muslim graduate students are from foreign countries — many coming from nations listed in the original executive order, specifically Iraq and Iran. The blatant Islamophobic and xenophobic rhetoric coupled with the unhinged behavior coming from the Office of the President has caused excessive anxiety and trepidation. Therefore, out of fear of losing their student visas, a near unanimous decision was made by the international Muslim students to not take up positions on the GMSA board. Thus without members to constitute a board, the group had to shut down. 

The GMSA served as a safe space for Muslim and non-Muslim students alike, to spend time together, to debate and discuss a wide-variety of topics: Islamic, Islamicate and everything in between. It was a place where those far from home could celebrate their cultural and religious holidays, where graduate students could present their research work and bounce ideas off each other, where our fine Muslim academicians in training could display their intellectual finesse. 

Sadly, it has all ended, as the backbone of the GMSA, its membership, is fearful and uncertain as to whether they share the same privileges as their classmates on campus, and if they too as students, as co-religionists, can gather without being labeled somehow. 

Nonetheless, it was a good run thus far, but unless the political situation drastically changes or the minority of Muslim graduate students, who are U.S. citizens, stand up and assume the mantle, the GMSA is no more. 

Shabbir A. Abbas is a class of 2017 graduate school alumnus. He was the president of the Rutgers GMSA from 2015-2017.

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