Dear New President of the College,
On behalf of the Muslim community on campus, we welcome you to the College. We are members of a dynamic interfaith community in the basement of Thompson Memorial Chapel, and as such, your next-door neighbors. We write this open letter to share with you what we are grateful for. Moreover, we hope to encourage and inspire you going forward to remember your neighbors next door to your office in Hopkins Hall.
You will enter the College in the best and worst of times for the Muslim community. We say best of times because you inherit the tireless legacy of the past 18 years of welcome and hospitality, service and sacrifice and gracious generosity from our Chaplain to the College, Rick Spalding. Spalding welcomed thousands through his First Days program, “Where Am I?!”. International students who were Buddhist, Hindus and Muslims and who knocked on his door to ask for help have all felt his hospitality. As a young and growing community, we have learned to work and serve with the chaplain’s office alongside various groups on campus, including the black, Latinx, queer, religious and secular communities, both locally and globally. Our interfaith community at the College is forever indebted to the accommodations and sanctuary made under the loving, caring leadership of Spalding and the entire chaplain’s office.
It is also the best of times because the Muslim community on campus has seen impressive developments in just the past few years. In this time of renewal, we have been blessed with an energetic, intelligent and active Muslim Student Union leadership team, charged by religious devotion and discovery, and with a newfound drive for service and engagement. Coupled with the spiritual guidance and insight of our Muslim chaplain, Sharif Rosen, and the experience and vitality of our advisor, Bilal Ansari, Muslim students have gained a new sense of confidence and presence in the community here. From the dining hall’s Halal options to the campus reminders about Eid celebrations from the Davis Center, the Muslim community feels welcomed by those who make an effort to do so.
It is the worst of times because of the undeniably toxic and belligerent atmosphere Muslims face in the United States at large. Whether it be the Supreme Court attempting to uphold laws that exclusively ban Muslims from this nation, or the almost constant attacks our community withstands from hate-driven media, the Muslim community on campus and at large feels the pains of alienation, vulnerability and demonization. The Muslim ban says to us, “You are not welcome here.” In the same vein as the anti-immigration fervor that plagues members of other minority communities, Muslims are in a constant search for a place of security in our own homes and places of worship.
Unfortunately, we occupy two rooms in an outdated chapel basement, and with a growing community, feel the need to renovate and expand in order to foster the new energy and vibrancy our community is gaining. Furthermore, the Muslim community does not want our spaces or campus to serve as a mere place of refuge, which holds a connotation of weakness and subordination, but wants spaces conducive to serving with and as members of this campus. On a practical note, we have no way for our disabled members to join us in safety during our worship services or join us in our cultural activities room, and see it fit for all interfaith spaces to have their spaces refurbished and modernized.
Still, despite our difficulties, the Muslim community wishes to express its gratitude and hopefully encourage what is best for all. As a final note, we urge you to reach out to your religious and spiritual neighbors next door to create and imagine a more diverse, inclusive and equitable campus. Remember to exemplify locally and globally the golden rule, “To love your neighbor as you love yourselves.” These are some words of gratitude and love from your Muslim neighbors.
Board of the Muslim Student Union
Omar Kawam ’20 is from Wayne, NJ. He lives in Bryant. Summiya Najam ’20 is from Islamabad, Pakistan. She lives in Dodd. They are co-chairs of MSU.