In an attempt to educate the community — both on and off campus — about Islam and Islamophobia in the United States, the Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement and Brown Chaplaincy are working together to conduct a series of monthly interactive workshops. Adnan Adrian Wood-Smith, the University’s associate chaplain for the Muslim community and president of RICMA, led the second of these workshops at Wilson Hall Saturday.
The interactive workshop aimed to provide attendees with a basic understanding of Islam from a practitioner’s standpoint and discuss the roots of Islamophobia, said Wood-Smith.
Wood-Smith began his presentation by giving an overview of orthodox Islam, discussing the three dimensions in human experience — body, mind and spirit — and different approaches to Islam. Authorities on Islam tend to belong to “chains of knowledge” that go back to the Prophet Muhammad, he said, adding that “what we are facing now in the world … (are) Muslims who aren’t traditionally trained trying to speak authoritatively about Islam.”
Sara Ludin, a RICMA volunteer and a visiting research fellow in history, continued the presentation by addressing the question of, “What is contributing to Islam and Muslims being seen as objects of fear and hatred?” She pointed to a framing problem in the news, displaying a screen grab of a CNN report that asked “Does Islam promote violence?” She also discussed the dehumanization of Muslims and its connection with racial fear. The historical link between Muslims and black people “is very deep, and white supremacy continues this policy of dehumanization,” Ludin said.
Islam can be used to promote political agendas, Wood-Smith said. “When politicians are able to use fear, when they convince people that they should be scared, studies show that then people are more willing to accept state authority, surveillance (and) limitations of their privacy,” he said.
Aisha Manzoor, secretary of RICMA, said that though Rhode Island is generally a welcoming state for Muslims, the state has seen Islamophobic incidents leading up to and after the election. She said that mosques in Providence and Kingston and the Islamic school in Warwick were targeted and vandalized.
Ruban Hussain ’18, board member of Brown Muslim Students’ Association, said that after President Trump’s election, female students who usually wear a hijab or headscarf were targeted on the street with comments like, “Get out of our country.”
Political leaders in Rhode Island are often responsive to such Islamophobic incidents and are present at rallies and events, Wood-Smith said. He added that political leaders have reached out to key leaders in the Rhode Island Muslim community and asked them to be on certain advisory committees. Mayor Jorge Elorza created a Muslim advisory board right after the election.
When asked about how to be a good ally to the Muslim community at this time, Manzoor said that the best way is to educate yourself on the basics of Islam — go to a mosque, attend a sermon or befriend a Muslim instead of listening to what the media says. “An enemy is someone whose story you don’t know,” Manzoor said. “It is harder to hate someone you know.”