Muslim students still affected by 9/11

By Gus Bode

The events of Sept. 11 changed the world for Saher Mohammed.

The problem is it won’t change back.

Mohammed, a graduate student in business, was at home in India seven years ago watching television in shock as the images of the Twin Towers collapsing were shown again and again.

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Weeks after the tragedy, his friends in New Jersey told him life was not as easy as it used to be for immigrants. Things were not as easy in India either, as a debate about supporting U.S. troops who were coming to the Middle East sparked political turmoil, Mohammed said.

Seven years later, Mohammed said he has yet to make it through an airport without being selected in a random security check.

“I understand you have to take precautions, but it should be for everything,” Mohammed said. “It shouldn’t be the name on your passport or because someone is a Muslim.”

When Mohammed arrived at O’Hare Airport in 2005 he was asked what his intentions were, what religion he practiced and why he came to Chicago. It is not what happens at the airport that concerns Mohammed, but the stereotypes and the suspicion of his religion.

He said the events of Sept. 11 have caused many people to suspect Muslims when any form of terrorist action happens around the globe.

“It’s not a good feeling to have your religion associated with those things,” Mohammed said. “Because of what happened there will always be an association.”

Naseem Ahmed, education coordinator for international programs, said she has the same concerns. She said the terrorist attacks have painted a face of violence on a peaceful religion.

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“I’ve become more concerned about the difference between terrorism seen in Islam and the actual face of Islam.” Ahmed said. “I’m concerned that often in the United States we tend to look at Muslims as the face of terrorism.”

While Mohammed said he has faced discrimination since Sept. 11, SIUC has been a safe haven. He said he has never encountered any discrimination, and everyone has been friendly to him on campus.

Keeping the community attitude positive toward international students after Sept. 11 is exactly what Peter Gitau did for Manchester College in Indiana.

Gitau, dean of students, served as director of international services at Manchester College when the attacks happened, and said it was difficult to watch the concern of international students.

The community was already isolated, Gitau said, and he had to assure the students they would be treated fairly and with respect. He said many students were calling their home countries to let their families know they were safe.

“A lot of people back in other countries don’t know how far New York is from Indiana so there was concern,” Gitau said. “Letting students call from my office was the least I could do.”

Gitau said his experience as an international student from Kenya helped him relate to the students, but a meeting held later that night showed him they would be fine.

He said the international student council and American students came together later that night and vented concerns, but helped each other through it.

“Watching people from all over the world come together and embrace was something I won’t forget.”

Jeff Engelhardt can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 268 or [email protected]

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