The University of La Verne held a panel discussion on Islamophobia Wednesday to consider discrimination that Muslim communities face today in America, as part of the One Book, One University event.
The event, “Immigration Nation? Living in the United States: A Panel Conversation about Immigration and Islamophobia,” included speakers Jihad Turk, the president of Bayan Claremont Islamic Graduate School; Firas Arodaki, a La Verne graduate student; and Hassam Ayloush, a representative from Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“Bigotry only survives when there is a social acceptance to it,” Ayloush said.
Although there are about 1.6 billion Muslims across the world, making it one of the world’s largest religions there is still an irrational phobia of the religion and the people who practice it, Ayloush said.
“I actually haven’t faced any challenges,” Turk said. “It’s not usually something I face in the context of some kind of negativity or hostility.”
Because Turk has never personally faced any discrimination due to his Muslim background, he feels that it may be that most of the people who do face discrimination look more “Muslim-y”, making it an almost racialized religious identity.
“Islam is a very diverse religion that is difficult to identify by face,” Ayloush said.
Islamophobia is an issue in America because ignorance is used to build fear, and there are currently 37 different groups dedicated solely to spreading that fear, Ayloush said.
“Most of us are not bigoted, but all it takes is a small group of people determined to make life miserable,” he said.
Turk said that bringing awareness through activism and social justice was the right course of action to counteract Islamophobia.
“When there is an issue of social justice, let’s stand up for each other,” Turk said.
Ayloush instead focused on the fact that the issue has nothing to do with activism and everything to do with bigotry. Bigots are the issue, he said, and help from a community that is not being targeted should never be expected.
“The focus should be on the bigots,” Ayloush said. “Nobody should feel that they have to do anything different in order to be accepted and embraced by their peers.”
He also added that Muslims are normal human beings who should not have to explain themselves, claiming that in order to be a good ally you just have to let them be who they are.
Students were then given the opportunity to ask their own questions.
“There is a misconception, I feel, that there is violence in the Quran,” junior psychology major Eric Kirakosian said. “Can you touch on this? Is it a misconception? Why do people think this?”
Violence has never been backed by religion, Turk said. It is usually due to a struggle of power and has nothing to do with religion.
“We pin it on religion but it’s anything but,” said Turk.
Many people in America oppose bigotry, Ayloush said. American Muslims are typically happy because although they face many obstacles here, they also have far more opportunities than they would have back home, he said.
The mediator of the panel, University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner, brought the panel to a close by saying that it takes a wide source of knowledge to fight bigotry.
This is where Kirakosian disagreed.
“You don’t need a college degree to know not to hate people,” he said.
Jocelyn Arceo can be reached at email@example.com.