Written by Hira Vayani.
Careful, condemned, curious are some words I would describe my experience as a 21st century Muslim. “… You terrorist,” yelled a driver as I walked near the UT campus. On my way to the mosque one night, a man reprimanded me because I decided to wear a religious symbol, a headscarf.
While Austin may appear liberal, vibrant, and music-loving, there are also deep wells of disdain, ignorance, and enmity in this sea of blue.
Experiences like this have allowed me and many others to realize that the only way to remove this contempt is to express tolerance, compassion, and patience with people from all walks of life. This is becoming increasingly harder as people remain unaware of and refuse to speak out against ignorance.
College campuses, such as UT, are inundated with people who possess various perspectives and ideas.
Something as mundane as a discussion section can sometimes feel like a court trial, as I try to explain to the girl in the back that Islam is a religion of peace, not violence and terrorism as she so strongly believes.
As I leave my class, I am again confronted with another moment where I feel scrutinized because of my beliefs. I must pray one of our five daily prayers, but as I walk to the bathroom to perform our purification service I begin to feel embarrassed. What will the girl behind me think as I cleanse myself? I continue on with my day and remember I must pray once again. I am not in a building that contains prayer accommodations, so I must find an empty corner and hope no one walks by or takes my belongings. Although this does not happen every single day, it still shapes the way I live my life in and out of the classroom.
I constantly tell myself to practice my religion fearlessly. Because I should.
Though these challenges persist, I must acknowledge UT’s Muslim community, the Nueces Mosque and the Muslim Students’ Association. Formal organizations like these have helped me navigate through the 40 Acres more comfortably. They have allowed me to meet people who share my feelings and form friendships. They have given me the opportunity to strengthen my religious values, to have a voice. In order to spread these feelings throughout campus, however, UT needs to implement more reflection spaces for easier prayer access and create purification systems, so that all Muslim students can practice fearlessly.
Muslim students are not the only Longhorns who feel alienated. Many others walk through campus without the freedom to truly be themselves. To those people: be yourself, share your voice, and find your community. There are still many changes that must transpire to make UT a truly inclusive, inviting, and imaginative campus for all. Those changes start with you.
Featured image: Al-Jamia Suffa-Tul-Islam Grand Mosque in Bradford, U.K. © Tim Green. Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license.