New Paltz Students React to Controversial ‘Day’

Most would assume that Florida pastor Terry Jones’ “Burn A Koran Day” campaign and the mounting tensions in the Ground Zero Islamic Center debate would rightfully shake the faith of young Muslim adults. But at State University New York (SUNY) New Paltz, members of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) are taking it all in stride.

“I’m not surprised that either of these things happened, given our cultural climate right now. But I’m not happy that they happened either,” said second-year history and art history double-major Aisha Muhammad. “I just think that it’s sad because it’s displaying the embedded ignorance that is plaguing our society right now.”

Ultimately, Jones chose not to burn any copies of Qurans on Sept. 11. But he was steadfast in his belief that he had accomplished a goal. Jones told NBC that his Gainsville, Fla. based church had “definitely accomplished [their] mission” to “expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical.”

But the members of the MSA felt that he had given them a platform on which to inform and educate people who heard the story.

“A lot of Muslim organizations in the country have been doing different projects like handing out thousands and thousands of Qurans to different churches and synagogues,” said Orooj Shahid, a fourth-year biology major with a double minor in chemistry and international relations. “This kind of gave Muslims an excuse to go out and tell everyone what Islam is all about. So, it kind of backfired. He kind of gave Muslims the publicity that we needed to go out and do what we needed to do.”

In some small way, Muslim students are seeing a parallel to the backlash that their religion faced when their reputation was tarnished by extremists. Pastors and rabbis have visited mosques on Islamic prayer days to express their sympathies and assure that they are different.

“I think this situation just shows that good people always stick up for people who are being accused and for human rights,” said Aruba Iqbal,  a fourth-year political science and biology double major. “Good people will always stick up for others.”

In the local community, MSA has participated in inter-faith events and has an open door policy for anyone willing to join them. The organization also hosts an Islamic Awareness Week to further inform the community.

While their religion remains a hot-button issue and recent current events have been less than desired, the members of MSA are unflappable.

“It was disheartening to hear about something like this going on in America. I’m American. This is my country. I love it. I love that fact that we have this freedom. And when someone comes around using freedom in this manner, it hurts a lot,” said Shahid. “It was kind of like a stab to my home country. But at the same time, since he didn’t do it, I was glad that this happened in the sense that now people are more likely to see what the Quran is about.”