Better together: UC Davis religious groups unite against hate

REVEREND JOCELYNN HUGHES / COURTESY

An interfaith effort to fight against hate crime, eradicate misconceptions

A day after UC Davis’ Muslim Student Association (MSA) had one of its biggest charity programs, an unidentified female broke the windows, slashed bike tires and hung bacon strips on the door handles of the Islamic Center of Davis on Jan. 22.

“A lot has happened in the past week,” said Omar Abdel-Ghaffar, a fourth-year political science major and board member of MSA. “I think one thing right after another has been a lot for MSA to deal with. Every time you try to stabilize yourself you are hit by something new.”

Soon after this event came news of President Trump’s executive order banning travelers of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

“I am anticipating really good [campaign] work to come in response to the travel bans,” Abdel-Ghaffar said. “I think this is something that hits a lot of students. There are plenty of Iraqi, Iranian, Sudanese and Yemeni students on this campus, and it’s important for us to address their concerns, and see how we can support them.”

The magnitude of these events requires a community effort. MSA has been active in establishing a network of Muslim students on campus to provide self-empowerment and to establish spaces where people can ask questions about Islam to dispel misconceptions.  

“These types of events are really disgruntling to a lot of Muslim students,” Abdel-Ghaffar said. “And I think we as Muslims have to take the steps necessary to ensure that we are safe and can live normal lives.”

Members of MSA table at the Memorial Union several times a week in collaboration with campus administration to ensure that students feel safe and comfortable on campus.

“[The members] are there just to answer people’s questions,” Abdel-Ghaffar said. “Someone can come and say, ‘Hey, I was watching the news yesterday and I saw this.’ It has been really incredible to see people who keep coming with more and more questions.”

Even before the incident at the Islamic Center, MSA had been working on various projects focused on educating others about Islam and counteracting Islamophobia. These projects include “The Davis Muslim,” a month-long series of lectures and panels focused on  sharing the lives of Muslim students with the rest of the campus.

In addition to their individual efforts, the Muslim community has received aid from an interfaith support system of campus religious groups. MSA has raised almost three times more money than needed to repair the damages to the mosque.

“We’ve had a lot of support from different religious groups, and that’s really heartwarming,” Abdel-Ghaffar said. “Jewish Voice for Peace has been amazing, along with Orthodox Christian Fellowship, who has also reached out. In the wake of the attack, I spent hours and hours the day after just answering emails. There were so many people that were concerned and wanted to help out.”

Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish-interest sorority on campus, has had its own experience with intolerance on the UC Davis campus. Julia Lopez, a first-year economics major reflected on an incident in which swastikas were written on the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house.

“I don’t really know why someone would go out of their way to put someone else down,” Lopez said. “We as a Jewish population understand what that feels like.”

The sorority sent the Islamic Center of Davis a letter of support because they could resonate with the feelings of hate crime.

“We sent them a letter saying that we stand behind them, and that no one should feel unsafe or scared about where they come from or what they believe in, especially on our campus,” Lopez said. “We apologized for what happened, and sent along some cookies.”

The Interfaith Campus Council (ICC) is a group of religious organizations that work together in programming and exploration across multiple faiths. They believe in different faith groups and non-faith groups collaborating for the common good and in the value of building relationships with one another.

“Our community is obviously devastated that this happened,” said Reverend Jocelynn Hughes of The Belfry, a campus chaplain and convener of the ICC. “In January of last year, we put this sign on our building saying that we stand with our Muslim siblings against fear and hatred, believing that we were responding to a candidate [Trump] that would eventually dissipate. It’s shocking that a year later, that sign is still necessary, and that in light of this crime we have to double down harder.”

The ICC had planned a World Interfaith Harmony Week and, in wake of the attack, doubled its efforts in fostering interfaith conversations. It also planned an interfaith Shabbat at the Hillel House followed by an open mic night during which people could address their recent fears.

“We have more in common than not at the end of the day,” Hughes said. “When religious groups are under attack, especially when it is seen as driven by another religious group, it’s really important for those of us that disagree with that to stand up and say that’s not us, and that’s not acceptable.”

Hughes believes in building relationships between different religious groups.

“When we are working together, even when we have some distinctions and differences amongst us, it makes all of us better [to do so] and it gives students the opportunity to live into what UC Davis is about as a community,” Hughes said.

In times when one religious group is singled out for hate, Hughes chooses to focus on how similarities can bring different communities together in support.

“I think that all the major world religions have some version of the golden rule,” Hughes said. “In their scripture or important writings, there is some instantiation of the idea that one should treat people well. I think that’s the basis that we all build upon.”

 

Written By: Sahiti Vemula—features@theaggie.org