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One Muslim student’s experience at the U

This piece is part of a larger Q&A about the experience of Muslim members of the University of Utah community. You can read the full Q&A here.

How would you define anti-Muslim bias and what are some of the ways it occurs in Utah?

Anti-Muslim bias is very hard to define because there are so many different forms of bias rooted in it. Muslims can be from any race, so there is bias within that. But broadly speaking, I’d say it’s definitely just how people will treat you differently if they know that you’re Muslim or if they see that you’re visibly presenting as Muslim. 

I don’t wear the hijab, but a lot of other girls do. Obviously, the hijab is a symbol that identifies someone as Muslim. That makes them more of a target than other people. 

In general, anti-Muslim bias is more microaggressive nowadays than it was like maybe when I was in elementary school. While I know in some places there are a lot of violent hate crimes towards Muslims, in my experience in Salt Lake City at least, it’s more often the off-handed comment, or exclusion of a Muslim person, or just plain ignorance about the religion.

What are the challenges you experience as a Muslim student on campus?

On campus, I’ve noticed some people are uncomfortable with Muslim students because many Muslims don’t drink or do drugs; that is not allowed in our teachings. If you’re a Muslim student, a lot of people will not hang out with you outside of classes, or they won’t be completely honest about their life with you, because they don’t want you to disapprove of what they’re doing.

For us, you are free to make your own choices, and Muslims shouldn’t judge you for that. Just because I don’t drink doesn’t mean that I’m going to shun you because you drink. Just because you are not religious, doesn’t mean that you should shun me because I am.

A lot of people have religious trauma, and I totally understand. Many times when people in my workplace or my school environment are talking about their experiences with religious trauma, they will then start telling me that it’s OK if I don’t want to participate in my religion. I do know some Muslims have religious trauma, but I don’t. I love my religion. However, the people around me are looking down on Islam, just like they looked down on their previous religions. But it’s really important to understand that I have a different experience with my faith. 

It’s important to try and learn more about something before you make statements about it. It’s hurtful when a close friend will tell me “You don’t have to be Muslim if you don’t want to.” It’s nice that they are trying to support me, but if I continue to say, “I’m Muslim because I want to be Muslim,” they shouldn’t try to encourage me to leave. People should always be respectful of others. I am respectful of your decision not to follow your religion, and you should be respectful of my decision to follow mine. 

Get to know why someone chooses what they do. If you are curious and respectful, it is usually OK to ask your friends questions about why they fast for Ramadan or wear a hijab, or do other things related to their faith. That means someone is willing to learn more about someone else as a person and they are trying to overcome their biases. 

How can people on campus be better allies to Muslim members of the campus community?

Try to learn a little bit about the religion. You don’t have to know everything, but it’s helpful to understand things like when we fast for Ramadan. For peers specifically, I know you can’t control if you feel uncomfortable, but please don’t think, “I don’t want to be this person’s friend just because they’re Muslim.” That’s really biased and it’s hurtful. Please make an effort to be welcoming to your Muslim peers. And please acknowledge that everyone’s experience with being Muslim is different and get to know that person’s feelings. 

Overall, I would say that the U is definitely more inclusive than a lot of other places in the state. From what I’ve noticed, I’d say people are definitely friendlier now and they want to know more.