Muslim club fights intolerance

By Brianna Kurzynowski|
Not everyone was happy when students at Flagler College decided to start a club aimed at educating people about Islam.
Organizers had announced their plans on Yik Yak, a social media platform. The announcement came not long after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. Someone commenting on Yik Yak asked, mockingly, if the French were going to be allowed to attend the club’s first meeting.
But students persisted and launched their club, known as the Muslim Student Association.
Club founder Yasmeen Anis said the group began with a simple mission: To inform the college population about the Islamic faith. And it’s a message, she says, that is timely because there is hostility toward Islam in Florida and beyond.
billboardEarlier this year, someone in St. Johns County put up a billboard that reads, “Islam Bloody Islam, Doomed by its Doctrine.”
In April, Becky Williams started a petition demanding its removal. She wrote:
“I was driving down the A1A with my daughter when I saw the ‘Islam Bloody Islam, Doomed by Its Doctrine’ billboard. I was horrified that something so hateful would be put up in my community. No one should be forced to see this offensive message on their way to work or school or just going about their day.
“We should always stand up for those in our community who are shown hatred and intolerance. This billboard is not representative of how the people in St. Augustine feel about our Muslim neighbors. It is of the utmost importance that we join together in standing against messages and movements that isolate, judge, and threaten an entire community of people who share our same hometown.”
As of today, more than 52,000 people had signed the petition to take down the billboard, located at Highway A1A and Seashore Avenue.
Jasmine English, who will be vice president of the Muslim Student Association starting this fall, called the billboard “rude, disgusting and disrespectful.”
Daniel Ross, the Muslim club’s outgoing vice president, said the billboard reflected “a lack of education and one view of Islam.”
Anis agreed.
“I never thought it would happen in St. Augustine, which is my home,” she said. “It is not a true representation of Islam. It is sending the wrong message.”
Anti-Muslim messages have been popular on the campaign trail this year.
Donald Trump, a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, wants to close the door to Muslim immigrants, among others.
In a video on his website, Trump states, “We don’t have a country if we don’t have borders. We will build a wall. It will be a great wall, it will do what it’s supposed to do, keep illegal immigrants out. Now with that said, we are going to have a beautiful big door right in the middle of that wall and people are going to come into our country and their going to come in legally.”
Anis disagrees with Trump.
“Trump needs to be more educated because there is a large Muslim population in America,” she said.
English is not Muslim, but said she wanted to be in the club to help education people about other nationalities and religions. She said she understands the struggles other races and religions go through. “I identify with the struggle because I am a black women,” she said.
Anis said more students support the club than she expected.
The Student Government Association is responsible for approving applications for new clubs on campus.
Students who want to start a new club must submit a petition to the director of student activities. The petition must include a club constitution and purpose, expected activities, a budget, signatures, name of officers and the name of the faculty advisor.
Prospective clubs must have a minimum of 20 signatures from interested students. “We got 75 signatures,” Anis said.
Ross was worried about getting support from the student body. “I didn’t really think we would have signatures,” he said. “We had overwhelming support from the SGA.”
Anis said she wanted to start the club in 2015, but had some doubts. “I got busy and I didn’t think there would be a big interest,” she said.
Anis had started a Muslim student association at her high school and wanted to do the same at Flagler College.
MSAEnglish said she wanted to be involved in the club to inform people and tell them about Islam.
Ross, a senior and sociology major, spoke with Anis last year about the lack of religious diversity on campus. While the college is not linked to any specific religion, Ross gets the sense that Christian values dominate the institution.
Since starting the club, club members are convinced that Islam is better represented on campus.
“The first meeting made it real,” Ross said. The club allowed Ross and the other members to have a platform for their voices. “I will feel better once we are well known on campus,” he said. But for now, Ross is confident that students are open to learning.
Anis was worried no one would show up for the first meeting, but it drew 30 people.
“With information comes acceptance,” English said. She enjoys the feeling she gets knowing that others are learning and said there is strong participation in the meetings. She said members from different belief systems come to the informational, lecture-style meetings and ask plenty of questions. “MSA is taking steps in the right direction,” she said.
“Starting this club was my biggest goal at Flagler,” Anis said. “It’s a good feeling knowing people have the chance to learn and having Islam represented on campus.”
In the future, Anis said she wants to organize more activities with the club. This past year members celebrated Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. They also hosted an inter-faith panel and informational meetings and gave students henna tattoos at a college event known as the Flagler Fest.

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