Bard Muslim Student Organization Discusses Trump’s Immigration Order, Religion and Identity


Bard Muslim Student Organization members spoke at a discussion panel on Wednesday the 1st about Trump’s Immigration executive order that banned immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

From left to right:  Abiba Salahou (U.S), Ugur Pece (Turkey), Renad Bdair (Palestine), Timur Celebi (Turkey), Humam Al-Rubaye (Iraq).

On Wednesday, February 1st, Bard Muslim Student Organization (MSO) rushed to organize an informative discussion panel in response to President Trump’s immigration executive order issued on Friday the 27th.

The immigration order, widely considered a “Muslim ban,” temporarily blocks immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and several other agencies stated that the ban is an obvious religious test and a clear violation of the constitution. The executive order has sparked the concern of hundreds of thousands of Americans who understand that Trump signed the order in the name of Islamophobia and racism. Protests immediately broke out at JFK international airport after several immigrants were detained and eventually deported Saturday; protests and rallies at Battery Park, NYC and across the nation followed that weekend.

The panel members included Abiba Salahou from the US, Ugur Pece, a visiting professor of Middle Eastern studies from Turkey, Timur Celebi from Turkey, and Humam Al-Rubaye from Iraq. These individuals expressed their concern for what the immigration order would mean for Muslim immigrants and refugees for the next few months in Trump’s America; many offered personal stories of what it means to be Muslim and recounted experiences where they felt targeted, ostracized and unsafe because of their religion; some examined inter-sectionality and religion while others spoke about their privilege as Bard students; lastly, many offered solutions to strengthening ties between Muslims and non-Muslims in America.

Each MSO member agreed that Trump’s immigration order singled out Muslim immigrants and refugees and is nothing more than a religious test to keep Muslims out of Islamophobic America. With Islamophobia spreading like wildfire among American citizens–republican and democratic–fueled by Trump’s prediction of another terrorist attack on US soil, these students have discovered there is little room for religious tolerance. Many have even felt unsafe in certain situations, especially on the street.

Bdair, who wears a hijab, recounted how a driver in Redhook attempted to crash into her when she was walking down the street one day. Others talked about being name-called and generally ostracized by the general public–sometimes at Bard but mostly in conservative areas like Redhook and Rhinebeck.

Salahou explained to the audience that although she feels the presence of Islamophobia, she views Bard as an inclusive community and also a place of privilege that she does not take for granted. “[I view] our campus more as a community and less as different groups of people. So we can support each other more and recognize our privilege less….for me personally, recognizing my own privilege and mobility in certain situations–for example I’m a Muslim but choose not to cover my head. I’m not necessarily targeted as stereotypical Muslim woman in America. Going to protests on Saturday [without my religion displayed by a hijab] gives me protection that some students don’t have and I recognize that as an opportunity to go [protest] and let their voices be heard and use that as my own way to add to the cause,” she said.

Much of the dialogue between the members turned to navigating academic and social life as Muslim students at Bard. Bard is home to few Muslim students and citizens of countries in the Middle East and North Africa, so the audience had the chance to stand in the shoes of the Muslim students who spoke of the obstacles faced at school because of their religion or nationality.

“I don’t separate my religion from my academic life. I have some difficulties here in managing my lecture times–I have to go to my dorm and pray then catch lunch. [It would be helpful] if they can offer prayer rooms so I don’t have to worry about how I can manage my time,” said Salahou.

“You’re already coming into a new environment in college,” Salahou continued. “I was coming to a school where the Muslim population was extremely small–smaller than any other religion on campus—that was challenging and added on to that is all freshman had to take FYSEM, which seemed like an attack on religion—professors refuted ideas in the bible and it made me uncomfortable because there were Christian students in the room who had to listen to what they were deconstructing. As time went on I realized religion became a teaching opportunity…Having discussions and educating people is better than shutting down someone when they disagree. And I don’t encounter that on campus but I’m less reluctant to talk about religion and open to having conversations with people because Bard students are open to new ideas—they are not interrogating it’s more curiosity.”

For Al-Rubaye, religion does not interfere as much with his academic life because if his background and upbringing in Iraq. “When it comes to religion, I was religious back home in Iraq–well it’s not like the way I live there’s no Sharia law I can follow. This is not a good interpretation of the religion especially there are so many sectors and ways to interpret Islam, religion is the basic line of defense for me…when it comes to practice, my family prohibited me from going to mosque at home because it was dangerous, I was not linked to that in any way…I’m not consistent with prayers and view them as a five minutes of my day I like meditation in general,” he explained.

Religion is an important aspect of identity, according to several of the panelists, but under the new immigration ban, religious identity is under attack, especially with Trump constantly referencing the 9/11 attacks–entertaining the idea of another terrorist attack on US soil.

Professor Pece spoke of identity and the immigration order, which has had immense socio-political ramifications in the past few days. “I grew up in Turkey, here a lot of times I don’t think much about it and religion is just part of my identity like other components. I don’t think about it unless someone asks me. Coming from Turkey, a lot of times I see here I’m asked more frequently what my religion is and I wonder what it is about, seeing the world through the lens of religion only, it can be innocent and harmless, but because we are here talking about our concerns and fears what worries me and what doesn’t is the refugee and Muslim ban. Trump specifically said he would accept Christian refugees from those countries. It’s interesting because for decades religion has been advanced through us and other countries have seen the Middle East—as a very sectarian place….It’s solidifying such a discourse and we are exposed to it in media and daily life and we cannot release ourselves from that grip. Personally, I don’t know how to answer accurately, it’s part of the complex identity of religion,” he said.

Pece, who recently received his Ph.D. from Stanford University is teaching a class this semester called “Making of the Modern Middle East,” and expressed deep concern for the consequences Trump’s immigration ban will have in the following weeks. He urged audience members to stay up to date with unfolding events and to try to learn about the ban themselves in an effort to spread awareness.

“You can look at the site Ajam Media and follow everything that is happening with the ban under the resource guide,” Pece encouraged.

The informative guide is accessible in several languages, including English, Arabic, Persian, and Somali. It keeps readers updated with progress certain agencies such as ACLU have made, provides advice for immigrants and refugees, and even recommends a list of social media accounts to follow.

The panel ended on an optimistic and thoughtful note: “What’s beautiful about Bardians is they do believe in freedom of expression and what you think, so they have this conversation where everyone says what they feel without fear. They will think of me differently…but they are supporting us,” said Bdair.


Photo by Nina Tanujaya/ Bard Watch.

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