Love, Life Stories

When my professor singled me out for my faith, I lost the ability to speak up

“This is what mosques do," my professor said. "They radicalize Muslims.” Then he turned and looked right at me.

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It was a Thursday afternoon.

We were divided into five groups, and every group was given a theme to work with: terror, climate change, humanitarian, war, and marine. We had to come up with several ideas on how to solve the problems facing each subtopic, and then pitch them to the class.

One of my classmates pitched the idea of Aarhus Model: a proposed “solution” to radicalization, which focuses heavily on the alleged role local mosques play in radicalizing individuals.

The Aarhus model originated in Denmark, after the mosque in Aarhus (the city) made disturbing headlines when an Imam openly urged worshippers to kill Zionist Jews back in 2006, and then again this year after he advocated the stoning to death of the adulterers and acceptance of child brides.

I was jotting down my own notes on the subject while my classmate further explained the model. 

One of her sources was, surprisingly enough, the offensive Imam himself. She had been able to get a hold of him during a free moment the previous Friday.

After she finished, my professor said something that changed my opinion of him forever. “This is what mosques do,” he said. “They radicalize Muslims.”

And then he had the audacity to look right at me.

I was shocked for a moment. I didn’t understand how my professor – a journalist – could say something like that to a class full of future journalists. I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs that he was perpetuating a false stereotype, that it wasn’t true at all. I wanted to find the strength to say something, but instead, I just looked right back at him in surprise. 

I was too taken aback. 

I wanted to find the strength to say something. Click To Tweet

I didn’t know who I could turn to talk about what happened in class. I wanted to prove that Muslims are capable of standing up for themselves. I didn’t want to seem complacent or have people think that I was supporting the Imam and his extreme ideologies. I didn’t want my classmates to look at me and think I was too “oppressed” to say something.

But all sort of excuses stopped me from standing up against this act of the professor. The only way I could let it go was to accept that maybe he didn’t mean what he said. 

Maybe I misunderstood him. Maybe I heard it all wrong. Maybe he meant that only the Aarhus mosque radicalizes Muslims, not all mosques. 

I kept blaming myself for what happened, but I wasn’t to be blamed. 

Islamophobia is real. It's alive and well. Click To Tweet

I tried to forget about the incident until the last day of class. Everyone was bidding farewell to my professor; he told us we could contact him whenever we need help and that he’d be happy to be of any and all assistance in our future academic careers. 

So, I took a chance. I went up to him and asked for feedback on my article. Instead of being helpful, he said: “Why do you want me to give you feedback? Anyone of your classmates can give you that.”

In my head, I thought, “Maybe because you’re my professor? Maybe because you have thirty years of experience, and my classmates don’t? Maybe that’s why I want you to give me feedback, and not them?” 

But again, I was as silent as the dead. 

I think it’s high time we realize that we aren’t to be blamed. Click To Tweet

Everything he said earlier came rushing back to me. I wanted to leave right away, without any feedback from him. But I persisted and got him to look at my piece. After, as I was leaving, I stopped and turned. I wanted to tell him, “You know, all mosques don’t radicalize Muslims.” I wanted to finally have my moment. 

Instead, I said goodbye and left.

In the end, I don’t know for sure if he had a prejudice against Muslims. I don’t know if he actually meant that about the mosques. But what I do know for sure is how he made me feel in those moments. He made me feel like the culprit. 

He made me feel like I didn’t belong.

He made me feel like the culprit. He made me feel like I didn’t belong. Click To Tweet

Yeah, he didn’t point at me and yell, “Taliban, Taliban, Taliban!” like somebody did to me in San Francisco once, but he made me feel the same way.

Islamophobia is real. 

It’s alive and well, despite the fact we’re living in the most “progressive” of times. There is no shortage of prejudice and racism in the world I live in. 

It saddens me to know I’m not the only one who has experienced Islamophobia. Just take a look at the headlines – every day, something new. From this shameful yearbook incident to the lockdown at the University of Florida, to being kicked off planes and being mistreated in public; these are just a few of the many ways Muslims are being discriminated. 

I think it’s high time we realize that we aren’t to be blamed for all this. Nobody should feel like a culprit on the basis of their religion, color, creed, language or clothing. 

Ever. 

Shajia Abidi

Shajia Abidi

Shajia graduated from San Francisco State University with her degree in journalism. She loves playing with numbers, writing code, reading novels, and exploring different places and culture.

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