CFJ hosts ‘Understanding ISIS’ discussion

By: Tatum Hunter ~Editor-in-Chief~

The same week that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made headlines for demanding that the U.S. ban Muslims from entering the country, two Xavier organizations hosted a talk on how to combat Islamophobia through education.

Students for an Informed Society (SFAIS) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA) partnered to hold “Understanding ISIS,” a discussion on terrorism and the narratives that surround it. About 40 students, faculty and staff members gathered in the CFJ on Monday for the presentation led by Dr. Waleed El-Ansary of the theology department, Dr. Anas Malik of the political science department and Shakila Ahmad, president of the board of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati.

El-Ansary talked about the difference between jihad — a noble fight for justice and goodness — and irjaf — acts of terrorism. Islam condemns irjef, and Western uses of the jihad often incorrectly equate the term with violence.

Malik delved into the psychology of fear, examining how people wrap their minds around tragic events. He said that an “us-versus-them” mentality often emerges in the aftermath of crises and that the “clash of civilizations” narrative prevalent in the Western media’s discussions of Islam has the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I think we’re at a moment of extreme anxiety,” Malik said of Muslim people in the U.S. today. “It is the responsibility of moral, ethical citizens, those who have a voice, to speak out.”

Ahmad encouraged Muslim students to educate themselves about their faith so that they can respond if others misinterpret or misrepresent it. She said that Islam is fundamentally opposed to acts of terrorism and violence, and students should be prepared to explain this.

“Suicide is forbidden,” she said. “Taking one innocent life is like killing all of humanity.”

Ahmad also said that human connection is an essential component of interfaith relationships, citing statistics showing that two-thirds of Americans have a negative view of Islam but only ten percent of these respondents have ever interacted with a Muslim person. She said many Muslim people feel anxious in public spaces, and a simple smile is a good way to help people feel more at ease.

“We are grieving just as much as anyone else,” MSA member Tamara Mahmoud said of recent terror attacks. “Learn information from multiple sources, and not just one biased source. MSA always has its doors open.”

For more information on Islam and interfaith dialogue, El-Ansary suggested that students visit MSA holds open meetings at 5 p.m. every Friday in GSC 310.