FAIRFAX, Va. - Many Muslims say it is a frightening time with Islamophobia, hate and discrimination at very high levels in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris and California along with presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
Anti-Muslim sentiment and hate crimes are at their highest level now since 9/11, according to Muslim advocacy organizations.
George Mason University in northern Virginia has a lot of Muslim students and efforts are underway to make sure they feel safe. An online petition has been created to declare George Mason a hate-free university.
Faculty and staff say they want to show they stand with Muslim students at a time of great social unrest. The petition says the hate-free designation includes immigrant, LGBT and African American students too.
In the petition, faculty and staff say they are committed to addressing racism and Islamophobia in academic units and higher education overall.
We met with a group of students on campus on Thursday to find out what it is like being Muslim right now and how they feel this petition helps.
“It's a scary time. You can’t pretend that it's not,” said Sarah Olibah, president of the Muslim Student Association at George Mason University. “When you hear about Muslim women being attacked just because they are wearing the head scarf or being verbally abused because their headscarf, it makes you scared … All we are trying to do is lead by example.”
“With the hate and the bigotry that goes on, it is a little more difficult for everybody,” said Sulaiman Ali, vice president of the Muslim Student Association. “You do have to understand that there are people out there who may dislike you simply because of a religion that you follow.”
“As for the petition, I really like that it's starting a conversation,” said student Maaz Ahmad. “That's one thing a lot of people don’t do – is talk. You need to talk to people who are different and get to know them.”
“I'm not Muslim, but I have a lot of Muslim friends and it does worry me, the events that are going on right now for their own safety,” said senior student Blaine Mulugeta. “But I think what’s more important is all of the student organizations coming together for one cause and supporting each other through everything that is going on.”
The petition declaring George Mason as a hate-free university has a goal of 1,000 signatures. So far, 200 people have signed it.
These Muslim students told us the fear right now is not just something they just feel, but also for those who love them too. Olibah said her mother calls her a lot more often now during the day to check on her and to make sure she is okay.
The students also said they are hearing more about Muslim women who are now afraid to wear their headscarves in public.