Project Nur: A New Club on Campus Battling Bias and Bigotry

In 2007, the American Islamic Congress began an initiative to combat anti-Muslim sentiments in America known as Project Nur, which has now officially made its way to Manhattan College.

The American Islamic Congress is a non-profit organization which was founded after the 9/11 terrorist attacks as a way to respond to violent actions and negative stereotypes surrounding the Muslim faith. One of the initiatives the Congress conceived was Project Nur, which would allow college students to participate in educating their peers about Islam, as well as facilitate diversity and dispel falsehoods about it.

Islamophobia has become even more of a hot button topic in America as of late, especially with President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on immigration. The order has temporarily banned travel from seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa to the United States. But the MC chapter of Project Nur was not created in response to the order.

“It just so happens that right now, that happened, and this is when I’m starting it,” said junior Megan O’Connor, who is spearheading the MC chapter of the project. “It actually has nothing to do with that, it’s just really coincidence that that’s happening right now, but I think that it’s good because it’s even more important to, like, shine light on that.”

The main goal of Project Nur is to provide education about the Muslim faith and to spread awareness of Islamophobia. According to O’Connor, it was when she began educating herself about the Islamic culture when she developed a passion for fighting the injustices that Muslims face in America.

“I want to just end Islamophobia, but I obviously can’t do that, so basically you just have to keep educating people on the idea and then hopefully they’ll educate their peers,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said she “learned from the best” through her classroom and extracurricular interactions with Mehnaz Afridi, assistant religious studies professor and director of the Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center, who educated her on the Islamic culture and is serving as the faculty adviser for Project Nur.

“What I hope to accomplish on this campus with being an adviser for Project Nur is to have better understanding and be the beacon campus of interfaith work and recognition for the world,” Afridi said.

O’Connor and Afridi have several ideas for the upcoming semester, including showing documentaries and movies that involve issues faced by Muslims, as well as inviting speakers to the school to speak about said issues.

While Project Nur itself is a non-religious organization devoted to social justice and advocacy, O’Connor also hopes to collaborate with the Muslim Student Association in the future.

“This is for anyone, everyone, fighting for people’s rights,” said O’Connor.

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A student standing in solidarity for those who practice the islamic religion. Rose Brennan/The Quadrangle

Many students who attended Project Nur’s inaugural meeting also attended the weekly Jummah prayer this past Friday, along with members of the faculty and members of local faith communities to show solidarity with Muslim students while they worshipped. Afridi attributes the widespread attendance to the Lasallian values that are prevalent on the college’s campus.

“I’m a Muslim, but I call myself Lasallian,” Afridi said. “So I think that there is a big difference between different campuses, but I think our campus is way more open, and I think it’s so beautiful to see people of different faiths standing up for each other.”

Afridi has conceived of three ways in which non-Muslim students can show solidarity and be active allies to Muslim students and faculty members during this time.

“What non-Muslim students can do on this campus is get to know Muslim students, that’s number one. Number two is educate themselves on what the faith is about. And number three is kind of dissect the idea that we are trying to do as a whole faculty administration about Lasallian principles, which is to recognize diversity to recognize the other, and to give dignity to the other, no matter what,” she said.

Project Nur recently launched a visual arts campaign called MANARA visual arts in light of the 2016 election to address bigotry and racism, specifically against Muslim citizens. This will likely be the first event that MC’s chapter of Project Nur will sponsor and participate in. O’Connor hopes that the club will continue to grow bigger and better.

“Hopefully in the future, it will be more of an established student activities club,” O’Connor said.