On Friday, Nov. 18, the University’s Muslim community hosted “Jummah on the Green,” a weekly prayer service, in the Usdan Courtyard. A Jummah is a congregational prayer that Muslims hold every Friday around noon. Students were invited to join in or observe the prayers. An invitation was extended to all students on campus and to other religious groups such as the Wesleyan Christian Fellowship and the Wesleyan Jewish Community.
The decision to hold the weekly prayer outside Usdan was in part to invite more members of the community join in and to show solidarity with the Muslim community following the election and also to engage in dialogue to counter Islamophobia. University Imam Sami Aziz led the service and after the first prayer gave a short speech in which he began by addressing Islamophobia.
“This is something that is not new, but for our neighbors, it is new,” Aziz said. “We have been hearing it for years. Now it’s in the mainstream media, but we’ve been seeing it across the nation for years.”
Aziz also addressed Islamophobia in the U.S. government.
“The government has hired over 1,000 informants to infiltrate Muslim communities across the country, in college campuses, to spy and create a level of fear within Muslims,” Aziz said. “There has been a multimillion-dollar campaign to dehumanize Muslims for the last few decades.”
When considering the principles of diversity and cooperation, Aziz quoted several passages from the Qur’an. He cited Martin Niemöller’s poem “First they came…” as being a particular source of inspiration for him.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist,” Niemöller wrote. “Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Aziz related this message to his feelings in the aftermath of the election, where he believes different marginalized groups including Muslims, People of Color, Jews, and LGBTQ+ communities will be discriminated against unless people speak out and stand beside each other in strength and companionship.
Aziz continued to explain the current situation facing the Muslim community in the United States.
“Evil is descending along the land and it has been, for many decades under many guises,” Aziz said. “And it has caused our great nation to spend millions, even trillions of dollars on militarizing our nation while neglecting the poor, the needy, education, and peace. But there is much hope, and I am very optimistic at this time.”
Aziz gave a list of ways in which people can help the Muslim community. The first was lobbying in an effort to pass a resolution in Middletown against anti-Muslim bias, hate, and discrimination in any form in schools, universities, hospitals, and government institutions. The second was to create an Islamophobia hotline that Muslims who have been harassed can call. The third was to visit local Muslim businesses to show solidarity. The fourth was to express solidarity with Muslim women wearing a headscarf. The fifth was to encourage the people of Middletown to host more refugee families. Finally, Aziz advocated education on Islam by reaching out to him or by taking a University class that discusses Islam in greater detail.
Aziz also proposed to make Wesleyan a sanctuary campus, a proposal which has since been enacted.
Aziz touched on the fear of Islam, noting that education is extremely important: once one understands what something really is, he noted, the fear caused by the media may disappear. Students, faculty, and staff formed a circle around those who were praying, holding hands in a symbol of unification and of solidarity.
Saadia Naeem ’20 was one of the students who participated in the Jummah. Naeem, who is from a Muslim family, shared her feelings.
“After the election, I was obviously concerned about the safety of my family and of myself given all the racist and aggressive sentiments that were unleashed by Donald Trump’s election,” Naeem said. “When students here held a protest on the Friday after Election Day, I won’t lie and say I wasn’t intimidated by the people who were there who said they were Trump supporters, [and that] I felt that they were fairly aggressive about it and very obviously there just to provoke people and get some kind of a negative reaction that would put the rest of us in a bad light. It was really scary seeing that there were people on this campus who were so willing to admit that they hate people that look like me and have the same beliefs as me.”
She also talked about her emotions concerning the Jummah.
“So when I heard that the Jummah on the Green was happening, I was excited,” Naeem said. “The idea of being so public about Islam and what it means to me was awesome, and to be able to share that with the rest of Wesleyan during a time like now was very meaningful to me. The day of, the weather was perfect and the outdoor Jummah was exactly what I needed. And to have other students stand around us as we prayed was wonderfully heart warming because it gave me tangible evidence that most people on this campus are open-minded and support me and my fellow Muslim students. The students who came to the Jummah’s actions truly spoke louder than almost anything anyone has said to me in the weeks since the election.”