Starting the discussion

Common Read event explores coverage, issues related to Muslim community

BROOKINGS – More than 80 students, faculty, staff and community members attended the Muslimedia event Oct. 4 at the Islamic Society of Brookings.

The event was organized by the Society and The Common Read Committee of South Dakota State University as part of the programming for this year’s Common Read book, “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America,” by Moustafa Bayoumi.

The book tells the story of seven young Arab Americans who are living in New York City following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

The event brought together a panel of journalists and members of the Brookings Muslim community to talk about the Islamic faith, perpetuation of stereotypes, fundamentals of their religion and how the media can do a better job of telling the story of American Muslims.

“It’s important to start the discussion sometime, somewhere …,” Fathi Halaweish, one of the event’s key organizers and an SDSU professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said.


Hundreds in Brookings

There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world as of 2015, and Islam is the second-largest and fastest-growing religion. If demographic trends continue, it will pass Christianity as the world’s largest religion by 2050.

The Islamic Society of Brookings has been a part of the community for 30 years, Halaweish told the crowd. It serves a population of about 200 undergraduate and graduate students and several families in the community.

One stereotype of the Muslim community is that most Muslims come from the Middle East.

Adam Luebke, one of the panelists who teaches English as a second language at SDSU, doesn’t fit that mold. He is from North Dakota. Both he and his brother converted to Islam several years ago. His wife is originally from Jerusalem.

“When I converted to Islam, my mother was devastated,” he said. “She had no idea what it meant. Islam is meant to make each culture shine, not overpower any one culture.”


Engage more

The job of journalism is to report and reflect the community, Argus Leader demographics and trends reporter Pat Anderson said. There are between 3,000 and 5,000 Muslims in Sioux Falls. However many sources in the Muslim community the Argus has, it’s not enough, he said.

“There’s an opportunity to engage more … especially with a national political scene that is influencing this population greatly,” Anderson said.

Journalists need to tell stories, he said, and stories are about people. After the travel ban went into effect early in 2017, he talked with a doctor in Sioux Falls who was nervous about going to visit family in his home country or to have his family come to the United States.


Understand one another

Knowing each other better is the key to understanding each other better, Shafiqur Rahman, a professor in the SDSU College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions, said.

Luebke and Rahman dispelled Muslim stereotypes. Muslims believe and worship the same God as Christians, Rahman said.

There is more violence in the Old and New testaments of the Bible than in the Quran, according to Luebke.

“It gets a bad reputation,” Luebke said. “The book addresses all aspects of human life, one of which is war.”

But a true Muslim would never commit acts of violence such as the attacks of 9-11 or the Boston bombings; they would never sacrifice themselves in that way before meeting their creator. Their actions are not consistent with Islam at all, he said.

“They’re just not devout Muslims,” Luebke said. “Nothing they’re doing is in line with what the Prophet taught. It doesn’t make any sense to us as practicing Muslims.”

Hara Mubashir, an SDSU student and member of the Muslim Cultural Students Association, expressed that after the recent shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people and injured more than 500, older white American men won’t be stopped routinely at airports because they are labeled terrorists. But that happens regularly to Muslim Americans.

She said Muslims are regularly pulled aside going through airport security to the point that they must allow for that in their travel plans. Being able to calmly walk through security is a privilege many don’t think about. She said a blanket is often thrown over issues affecting people practicing the Muslim faith. She hopes once the Common Read is over that blanket won’t cover the subject again.

“Bad things happen,” Mubashir said. “It’s important how you handle it.”

The hanging of posters on campus this week by a white supremacist group was acknowledged quickly on SDSU’s Facebook page, and the signs were quickly removed. The way SDSU handled that situation made her feel better.


Moment for education

Collegian Editor-in-Chief Makenzie Huber encouraged students to move beyond echo chambers to gain information.

“I hope you don’t only follow people with the same views,” she said. “I hope you don’t only read articles that agree with your views. You’ll never learn anything new that way.”

Journalists have a responsibility to educate, but it’s on people, too, Huber said.

Rahman said he sees unintended stereotypes or misinformation in news reporting as an opportunity.

“We aren’t offended,” he said. “This is a moment for education.”

He added, “SDSU and Brookings are always welcoming environments for Muslim students and families.”

A student attending the event asked why this was the first time she’d been exposed to discussions like Muslimedia and how will discussions continue when this Common Read is concluded.

“The heart of the Common Read is the beginning of important conversations,” Interim Honors College Dean Rebecca Bott-Knutson said. “Our challenge to our students is to keep talking about it; don’t let it stop when the semester is over.”

Photo by Kate Stock, SDSU Common Read Committee

Students and community members filled the lower level of the Islamic Center of Brookings Oct. 4 for Muslimedia, a program sponsored by the SDSU Common Read Committee. The program paired journalists and members of the Muslim community of Brookings to answer questions about the Islamic faith, their community and how news people can better cover issues relating to them. Panelists included from left: Shafiqur Rahman, a professor in the SDSU College of Pharmacy & Allied Health Professions; Adam Luebke, an ESL Online Writing Instructor at SDSU; Hara Mubashir of the Muslim Cultural Students Association; Jim Helland, SDSU journalism instructor; Makenzie Huber, SDSU student and Collegian newspaper editor-in-chief; and Pat Anderson, demographics and trends reporter for the Argus Leader.