After coming out of the usual dizzying blur of Welcome Week activities, I have witnessed that despite the fact that the Muslim Student Union’s ability to organize on campus has been halted, the desire of Muslim students to contribute to their campus and community, to educate others about Islam and to provide various forms of outreach is just as strong as ever.
UC Irvine’s recently disappointing decision to suspend the MSU for fall quarter and impose a two-year probationary period is an unjust punishment that will be detrimental to the diversity of this campus.
Despite that, it is refreshing to see that Muslim students at UCI have set out to remain undaunted by the currently unprecedented situation in which they find themselves. The Muslims on this campus are still determined to speak out for justice and help those in need. This is reflective of their commitment to bettering the university environment and contributing to its values of compassion, justice and pluralism.
Considering that the administration has, in effect, halted the ability of the most centralized and established Muslim organization at UCI to function, the reaction of Muslims at this campus has been forward-looking, and they are as dedicated as ever to continuing their activities on campus.
What has proven to be much more disappointing, however, is the university’s decision to enact these punitive measures on the MSU, which serves the nearly 150 Muslims at this campus. After all, what kind of message does the university want to send — to both Muslims and non-Muslims — when it has suspended the oldest and largest Muslim organization on campus?
Is the message that the University’s decisions are governed by the practice of guilt by association causing the unwarranted alienation and marginalization of an entire religious group of students at this campus?
Is it that the unjust and disproportionate nature of these sanctions is somehow acceptable, despite the thoroughly unprecedented character of the decision? (It was the only organization “in recent memory at UC…[which recommended] the ban of a student group for something other than hazing or alcohol abuse,” according to a June article in the Los Angeles Times.)
Or is it that this apparent trend of the university shutting down student voices and actions is somehow here to stay? An event or protest in which a few individuals take part is not reason enough to suspend an entire group on which so many Muslims on campus rely for their social, spiritual and humanitarian needs.
Whether we like it or not, those are the messages being received and, because they are destructive and damaging, one cannot ignore or turn a blind eye to the waves of fear emanating from these sanctions.
While the university should be encouraging the diversity of student activity at this campus, the MSU suspension has left an apprehension and wariness of Muslims, who feel as if they need to be apologizing for being Muslim at UCI. That kind of atmosphere can be dangerous and counterproductive for all students on this campus.
It is crucial to question the suspension of an organization which serves the spiritual, social and academic needs of the Muslim student body at UCI, an organization which offers a diverse array of enriching services from humanitarian efforts and interfaith events to youth outreach programs for local Southern California high schools.
The media spends a lot of time highlighting the sensationalized activities of MSU but it would do us all well to recognize the MSU’s achievements in serving its community. It is rare for the media to mention that this past year the MSU won the Cross Cultural Center’s first Social Justice Award and raised $5,000 for the Haiti earthquake. Reports of MSU’s activities rarely include diverse projects such as the organization’s participation in UCI’s campus-wide Live KIND project, the MSU winning second place for best booth at the Rainbow Festival for the past two years, the food drives for the homeless or that they sell shawerma sandwiches, a campus favorite. These are just a few of the ways the MSU has contributed to the diverse and multi-faceted fabric of our student body and our community.
In the wake of the MSU suspension, the campus community should not accept these sanctions of guilt by association and the silencing of student actions. The Muslims at UC Irvine are determined to move forward with even more motivation to create a positive change on this campus and to speak with a student voice that is just.
Madiha Shahabuddin is a third-year political science major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.