When students think about activism at the University, they are likely to think about environmentalism, labor issues, and human rights. Religion, however, may soon become the next key factor in campus activism. Last week, Muslim civil rights leader Imam Mahdi Bray spoke to students about the government’s unjust actions against the Muslim community and offered ways in which students could respond. Imam Bray’s ideas were amplified by Muslim community leaders on campus who spoke about their roles relating to activism, as well as encouraged students to use their voices when there are changes to be made in society, whatever those changes may be.
Bray, who serves as Executive Director of the Muslim American Society’s Freedom Foundation, first gave a talk entitled “The Injustice of the Justice System: Muslim’s Civil Rights in America.” While specifically referring to Muslim civil rights, Bray had a larger goal: to encourage student activism. He said that injustices against the Muslim community were not the only thing that should be concerning students and reminded his audience that students have always been the leaders of progress and change.
“I think that given the [economic] situation, economic justice is an important thing that students can engage in,” Bray said. “Students really have to be vigilant about Afghanistan and they should start now.”
For Bray, two of the most prevalent issues facing American society at the moment is the escalation of troops in Afghanistan, which he calls a possible “20th century Vietnam,” and implementing budgeting priorities that give less money to Wall Street and the military and more to universal educational opportunities.
The University’s Muslim Chaplain Marwa Aly, with the help of students, has organized many of the Islamic-oriented events on campus, including Bray’s visit. According to Aly, her motivation comes from a desire similar to Bray’s, to help inform students.
“The social awareness has to come from our own individual selves where we choose to educate ourselves about everyone who may face any type of oppression,” Aly said.
Aly said that coalition building and awareness are good ways to alleviate the problems facing Muslim-Americans today. She does, however, see shortcomings in the way in which many of these organizations go about building this consciousness. Specifically, she noted that Islamic organizations have a tendency to collaborate only with other Islamic organizations.
“[The Red Cross’s] base may be Christianity and we may disagree on the divinity of Jesus, for example, but we can still come together for community activities,” Aly said.
She added that Muslim organizations should broaden their scope to encompass a range of issues.
“They should get involved in Go Green and environmentally aware organizations, because for Muslims, that’s also important.”
Nadeem Modan ’10 agreed that it is necessary to work outside the boundaries of religious organizations. He said that if the discussions are kept within the mosque’s wall, they will not reach the non-Islamic society. The false and true perceptions of the Muslim community are translated into laws and the media and affect public opinion.
“If you want to change everyone else’s possible perception of the community, you work within and without the community,” Modan said. “If you are going to define yourself with the same label as someone else and they do something wrong, it becomes your responsibility to denounce that.”
Modan, a member of the University’s Muslim Student Association and the Interfaith Justice League, and co-founder of the Indo-American Volunteer Network, said that the changes student activists are pushing for must be made in the government, starting on the local level and working upwards.
Bray, Aly, and Modan all agreed that students’ voices are important to the wheels of change in this country. Modan noted that despite the magnitude of the task, college campuses have the potential to inspire major change.
“Everything that an activist does revolves around getting our actions in tune with our ideals,” Modan said, “You shouldn’t let the immeasurability of the task stop you from pursuing the goal.”