Removing the Shroud

Removing the Shroud

By Mark McLaughlin

Frantically dashing through Logan International Airport, Fatima Shahzad, a senior political science major, was about to miss her flight to Chicago last year. She was comforted only by the fact that she had self-service check-in, which allows her to check her bags by just swiping a credit card.

It wasn’t that easy, though.

Shahzad wasn’t allowed to use the self-service check-in because she had been put on a no-fly list.

“They were like, ‘Ma’am, come here please,'” Shahzad said, “I was like, ‘Oh, great, I’m about to miss my flight. I just want to do this quickly. And I can do it quickly – that’s what this express thing is for.” Shahzad said the official told her she was being identified because her name is “a little common.”

She told the attendant, “Trust me, my name’s not common. You’re just profiling me. I’m an 18-year-old girl. I’m not a security threat. I won’t do anything. You know, I just want to go to Chicago.”

Shahzad – the acting president of the Islamic Society of Northeastern University (ISNU), the student group for Muslim students at Northeastern – experienced the same profiling that many of America’s estimated seven million Muslims face. After September 11, Islam, was thrust into the spotlight. The increased attention on Islam, however, has fostered misconceptions about the religion, said Shelli Jankowski-Smith, the director of Northeastern’s Spiritual Life Center and faculty advisor of the ISNU.

“The perception I get from the media is totally at odds from the perception I get in real life, from real people,” “And I think the misconceptions in the media are that, well, the things you kind of hear about that everyone who’s a Muslim is somewhat kind of suspect or scary or could be a terrorist or should be watched or limited. I mean, there’s all these really negative images you get in the press.”

Finding a faith community

In this tumultuous time for the Islamic community, many Muslim students at Northeastern like Shahzad have trouble coping with the difficulties that come with balancing many identities: They are Muslim college students trying to fit into a new society. While some students look to leave behind the religion and customs of home when they go to college, Muslim students said it was their first opportunity to truly embrace many customs of the faith.

Moshin Chaudari, a freshman criminal justice major, said coming to Northeastern from his hometown of Attleboro, was the first time he has gotten to take part in a large community of Muslims.

“Attleboro doesn’t have a very large Muslim population,” he said. “I think my family and another family were the only two families. But coming to college, I’ve become more religious, because I’ve met with all these different Muslims and learned new perspectives.”

Chaudhari’s increased religious enthusiasm is aided largely by his participation in the ISNU.

The members of the organization meet for prayer on Fridays and organize group outings, lectures, seminars, fundraisers, and inter-faith dialogues.

The most visible challenge to the Muslim community in the United States is the backlash that’s come since September 11. Since the attacks, there has been a swell of anti-Islamic sentiment from some people in America. Although most Muslim students at Northeastern haven’t experienced any serious repercussions, the specter of distrust from the non-Muslim community still looms.

Hate crimes stemming from September 11 have been a very real threat to Muslims over the past four years.

In 2000, According to the Uniform Crime Reporting sector of the FBI, hate crimes against Muslims accounted for only two percent of the total hate crimes against religious groups. This ranked second to last in the percentage of hate crimes against religions. Only atheism had fewer incidents committed against it.

In 2001 – only a year later – crimes against Muslims accounted for 26 percent of the total hate crimes against religious groups. This was the second highest out of major religious groups, behind only crimes against Jewish people.

Since 2001, the percentage of hate crimes against Muslims has remained second out of all the hate crimes against religions. From 2002 through 2004, however, the percentage of hate crimes against Muslims was only 11 percent of the total, a drop-off since 2000.

One instance of a local hate crime occurred two days after September 11 in Boston. According to the Ma. Attorney General’s office, a 23-year-old Iranian woman and resident of South Boston was allegedly attacked by four women between the ages of 18 and 21.

The defendants allegedly shouted racial epithets at the victim and spit in her face as she struggled to dial 911 for help. While she was on the telephone with the 911 operator, Katie O’Dea allegedly punched the victim in the eye. The attackers continued to allegedly assault the victim as they yelled at her to get out of the United States.

Bigotry in Boston

The anti-Islamic sentiment has affected some of the Muslim population at Northeastern.

“I’ve heard, even while driving with my window down, people are like, ‘Go back to your country. Go back to where you came from.’ I’m like, ‘Well, I live in Randolph now; I don’t know where you want me to go.’ But there’s definitely a lot of that. … You see people looking at you crooked sometimes,” Shahzad said.

Shahzad said this is something unique to the post-September 11 United States, at least for her.

“People would still look at you funny, but now it’s like funny and scared,” she said. “I actually went to an Islamic school, a high school, and we were told to hide from the windows, stay away from windows.

“And people who commuted were escorted home by staff members because they were so afraid of the backlash,” Shahzad said. “My dad was a doctor at St. Vincent’s [Hospital], which is a couple blocks away from the Twin Towers, and he was there helping the victims; and here I am hiding from windows because I feel like I’m going to receive backlash. It was really dynamic. It all was based upon misconceptions.”

Chaudhari said the distrust of the Muslim community since September 11 is completely grounded in false impressions of the religion.

“There are only a small percentage of extremists,” he said. “Another misconception is that we are violent people, which is untrue also. If you read the Muslim holy book, the Quran, a lot of it has to do with peace,” Chaudhari said.

There are also misconceptions that alter the way Americans view the social equality of the religion. Many Americans see Islam as degrading to women and women’s rights. Shahzad disputes this view.

Shahzad wears the hijab, the head covering worn by Muslim women.

“People aren’t as used to seeing people covering their heads, so it’s something different in American society,” she said. “But I was born and raised here. I was born in Brockton. It’s a little different sometimes when people see that – they think of it as oppression. And I think that when people think of it as oppression, that itself is a form of oppression for me.

Leave a Reply