Marjorie Anne Foster
Students Discuss Muslim-Christain Relationships at 2018 Ripple Conference
Updated: Jul 31, 2019
On Saturday morning over 30 students gathered together in the Numen Lumen Pavilion for their third interfaith session in the Ripple Conference to discuss one questions: How do students bridge the gap between different religions on campus?
With the crowd sitting in a circle in the middle of the Numen Lumen Sacred Space, students, faculty and staff listened as Elon First Year Misbah Chhotani talked about her experience being a Muslim involved with Christian groups on campus.
Getting involved with the Christian organization, Young Life, during her Junior year of high school, Chhotani decided to continue investing in the community during her time in college. She now spends time in both the Young Life and InterVarsity communities on campus.
She explained that getting involved with groups like this was awkward at first and felt out of place in the beginning.
“A lot of times, my friend's jaws would drop when they found out I was Muslim,” said Chhotani. “Their next questions would always be, why are you here?”.
Over time she built relationships and created friendships with those identifying with different religions. She said most of her friends on campus are Christian due to the fact that they all share very similar values and morals, making it easy for them to get along.
Chhotani said she has never received any negative comments or questions from students at Elon and feels loved and supported by her Christian friends. Although she feels accepted by the Elon community for her faith, she explained that being a Muslim at an American University has its challenges.
Audience members that identified as Muslim agreed that in the U.S., religion has to be something you make time for whereas, in their home countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan), most activities are formed around their faith.
Converse College student Khitma Nooran said the most challenging aspect of practicing her faith in college is praying five times a day while in class.
“All of my professors are very accepting of my need to pray,” Nooran explained, “It’s just frustrating having to leave in the middle of class, then come back five minutes later. It’s hard to live everyday life sometimes.”
Davidson Student Sanali Palmer agreed that making time to pray was challenging when living apart from her family.
“I had to explain to my Atheist roommate that I would be praying before the sun came up every day,” said Palmer. “She never understood why I had that need.”
The Muslim students all agreed that their quintessential challenge being Muslim in an American University was the food.
“While having to eat Halal food, the options are so limited on campus,” said Noorn. “The other day I only ate a biscuit for lunch and dinner.”
Queen's University student Muhammad Jibriel agreed that food is a major problem for him on campus, but more pressing than that is the fear he feels surrounding his religious identity.
“Sometimes I am scared to tell people that my name is Mohammed,” said Jibriel. “You just never know how people will react to you.”
Audience members spoke about the issues surrounding this type of religious profiling and came to the conclusion that it is the job of those in the religious majority to make minority groups feel heard.
“When I meet or see someone identifying with Islam, I always ask them, ‘Do you know that you are loved?’”, said a Queens University student. “As a Christian, I feel like it's my obligation to remind them that they are supported and welcomed here.”
When asked how those of other faiths should help foster Muslim relationships, Chhotani says it's not all about what those groups of people can be doing, but rather, the mentality that some Muslims have.
“A lot of people in my faith think they can’t be with Christian groups because they will try and convert them,” said Chhotani. “They need to have a more open mind to those relationships.”
“Call out Islamophobia when you see it, especially in family and friends,” added audience members. “It can be an awkward conversation, but it is so important to end that kind of talk.”
Other tips from the audience were to treat “humans as humans,” ask questions, engage in conversation and live life in relationship with students of different faiths.
Other resources for Muslum life on College Campuses:
The Atlantic, "Being Muslum on Campus"Huffington Post, "A Muslim's Guide to Starting University"Blog Post, "A Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice: News and Views"