Muslim student responds to ignorance, reacts with tolerance

By Sarah Williamson |
Photo by Sarah Williamson

Bunder Shageer’s face differs significantly from the Muslim man on the cover of Newsweek last month. The magazine revealed a close-up of a male rioter spitting violently in protest of an American-made film, “Innocence of Muslims.” The magazine headline, in bold print, said, “Muslim Rage.”

Shageer, a 27-year-old transfer from Seminole State College in Orlando, is one of the few Muslim students at Flagler College. Regardless of the headlines, many like Shageer say the majority of practicing Muslims were not in rage.

“Islam teaches us to be peaceful. If we want to protest we can protest all day long, peacefully. It’s not our right to suppress others. It’s not our right to react violently,” Shageer explained.

Controversial snippets of the film on YouTube depicted the prophet Muhammad as someone far from holy, and prompted protests by Muslims throughout the Middle East, and even beyond.

Shageer first heard of the film while at home watching ABC News. His first response was disappointment in the reaction of the Arab world, he said.

“The problem overseas is that people are looking at them [the rioters] as all the Arab nation. That’s not what Islam teaches us,” Shageer said.

Shageer explained that when situations like this arise in the Arab world, he and his family, both in the United States and Saudi Arabia, must respond through education. They hope to spread the word of Islam through peace, in contrast to the media’s furious faces.

“Our goal is to stress the fact that it’s not what Muslims do. It’s a teaching period for us. Yeah, what’s happening is a fact: riots, death, but it’s not what Islam is about.”

Dr. James Rowell, a professor of religion and Islamic politics at Flagler College, agrees.

“It’s very unfortunate you have this violent reaction,” he said. “All of these extreme ideas really are fostered in positions of political and cultural repression and lack of freedom.”

Rowell described wisdom from Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s former prime minister who was assassinated in 2007. Bhutto said that democracy is like oxygen that will drive out any kind of extremist. For those who do not have certain freedoms, a video such as “Innocence of Muslim’s” is very corrosive to the moral fabric of their society and will cause severe unrest, Rowell explained.

Shageer said the extremists’ point of view is due to lack of knowledge, where leaders control them.

“It’s a big picture kind of deal,” he said. “Small groups of people cause problems and makes it look like the whole nation is problematic. It’s also power. They want power they don’t have. They want to put fear in the hearts of those that maybe they fear [the most].”

Shageer does not know any other Muslim students at Flagler College, but said his minority status does not faze him. As an older student, his interests differ from most 20-year-olds, he said.

He is a licensed mechanic and studying communication. While he is still uncertain what he’ll do with his degree, he stresses the importance of gaining knowledge within the Islamic faith.

Outside of work and classes, Shageer spends a significant time each day reflecting on the practices of Muhammed.

“For me, it’s second nature. If it’s time to pray, I pray. If it’s time to fast, I fast. If people are in need of help, we must help them. The thing about Islam, it’s not just a religion. It’s a way of life. [That’s] the beauty if it. It’s a way of life.”

Editor’s note: This story was published before the Obama administration declared the Benghazi attack a “terrorist attack” and originally contained reports that rioters in Libya were responsible for the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

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