Muslim Students Criticize Banzhaf’s Legal Action
Regina Conley, Tower Staff
November 4, 2011
Filed under News
University Muslim students have announced their opposition to the recent lawsuit against the University proposed by George Washington University professor John F. Banzhaf, who claims that the University is discriminating against Muslim students by not offering them a separate place to pray on campus.
The University has not received any official statement from the Office of Human Rights in regard to the lawsuit.
“Neither me nor any Muslim student I know has ever filed a complaint against CUA for any reason,” said sophomore biomedical engineering major Alawiyah Al Hashem. “I haven’t seen any actions taken by the university or any of its students that would justify doing so.”
Al Hashem is an international Muslim student from Saudi Arabia who plans to return to Saudi Arabia upon graduation.
The news of the lawsuit has attracted the attention of the national media since Banzhaf first announced his intentions to sue the University for religious discrimination on October 20th.
It has sparked an onslaught of public criticism of the University’s Muslim students based on the premise that the lawsuit was a result of student complaints, despite the fact that Banzhaf never received any complaints from the University’s Muslim students.
Catholic University Muslim students have been accused of a multitude of offenses including asking the University to remove Catholic religious objects and issuing formal complaints to the University for not allowing a private room for Muslim prayer and for not allowing a chapter of the Muslim Student Association to form on campus.
The quantity of national criticism of the University’s Muslim students prompted University President John H. Garvey to issue a formal statement to the entire University community on Friday, October 28th.
“I regret very much that our Muslim students have been used as pawns in a manufactured controversy,” he said. “I want to reassure all of you that our Muslim students are welcome at our University. Our Catholic teaching instructs us to embrace our fellow human beings of all faith traditions. They enrich us with their presence and help to promote inter-religious and inter-cultural understanding.”
Garvey also called a closed-door meeting with the Muslim students yesterday in order to express his regret for the misstatements and hate speech against Muslim students which has spread online.
Junior electrical engineering major Wiaam Al Salmi said that she has not encountered anything that could be defined as discrimination during her time at the University.
“I have found that my closest American friends are the more religious Catholics; those who pray before they eat, or who are shocked to see a person cheat,” she said. “They are the ones that allow me to listen to them pray the Rosary or attend Renew with them. These friends not only shared their religious beliefs with me, but they also allowed me to do the same, which then created a sense of respect for one another’s religion.”
Al Salmi is a native of Oman who has lived in the U.S. since 2002.
She said that while the University should have no legal obligation to provide Muslim students with a prayer room, she would also be very grateful to have a secluded place to pray on campus.
“We have to take so many things into consideration,” she said. “We must not start praying on the hour because there might be a class here in 10 minutes, all the classrooms that are in the building that I am may all be full at prayer time, so I have to go to another building but there is still no guarantee that I will find an empty room and I don’t like to pray outside because I like to have some kind of privacy.”
Al Hashem denied Banzhaf’s claim that Muslim students were complaining because they could not pray in places that displayed Catholic symbols, such as the crucifixes which are affixed to the walls of all University classrooms.
“It is obvious that Banzhaf has no idea what Muslim students are experiencing here on campus and I would not want to be represented by a person like Banzhaf,” she said. “He is claiming that we as Muslims can’t pray in a room that displays Catholic symbols. I’m not sure where he got that idea from, but I’m certain that it is not true. It is perfectly fine to pray in a place like that. I’ve prayed in many rooms that had crosses and pictures of Jesus, and there was no problem doing so.”
Al Hashem said that part of her decision to attend the University was because she had a strong desire to be at a place that took religion seriously, no matter which religion that was.
“I chose to attend CUA because it is a religious school,” she said. “I didn’t really care what religion it belonged to. As long as God is present in their everyday life, then it is fine with me.”
She said that one of her favorite parts of the University is the beautiful Catholic symbols which are displayed all over campus.
Both Al Hashem and Al Salmi said that they were surprised that this issue has gotten so much national attention and that the facts about how Muslims feel about the University have been so erroneous.