Muslim Student Association Hosts Town Hall In Response to Executive Order

By Olivia Palladino, Contributor

On Wednesday Feb. 8. the Muslim Student Association (MSA) hosted a town hall meeting in Kelly Commons regarding President Donald J. Trump’s temporary travel ban, also known as the “Muslim Ban.”

Trump signed the executive order into effect on Jan. 27. which temporarily suspended entry into the U.S from seven Muslim-majority countries and altered refugee program policies.

Before a packed conference room in Kelly Commons, MSA vice president Haris Ali, who emceed the event, said the objective of the town hall was to spread love and create understanding.

“It all began because I emailed some the professors and some of my colleagues because I was afraid of what was going on and the kinds of attitudes we were developing toward each other,” Ali said. “So, this event was set up to bridge the gap to create more understanding, love, and empathy toward each other.”

The town hall, titled “Is the Muslim Ban Important?”, was a two-part event, comprising of speakers and group discussions.

Part one featured two speakers, Ali and Sheikh Samer Al Raey, MSA’s Muslim Chaplain.

Ali discussed the importance of civil disobedience and peaceful protest in creating change, and urged the Manhattan College community to ignore political labels and stop fighting one another.

“Whether you’re a liberal or conservative, we’re all Americans,” said Ali. “We live on this campus and we need to respect each other.”

The next speech, by Samer Al Raey, emphasized the value of tolerance and acceptance, and the need for education in our current state of affairs.

“Any civilization, any individual will survive with a healthy attitude. They fall when they lose ethical standards, when justice is gone, when discrimination is a part of life,” said Samer Al Raey. “Don’t let confusion or misinformation about religion make you do anything wrong.”

In the second half of the event, Mehnaz Afridi, Ph. D., religious studies professor and director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center, divided attendees into small groups to discuss the effects of the ban, both personally and nationally. Afridi instructed that groups should consist of people who did not know one another.

Afridi then asked the audience three questions, including their initial reaction to the ban, whether any pros or cons of the executive order exist, and how it involves them as Americans. Group members discussed with one another until the entire meeting came together to share their responses and debate their ideas in an open forum setting.

Sophomore Casey Monroe felt that being exposed to a variety of opinions within her group of peers around campus was worthwhile.

“The most valuable takeaway for me was the amount of knowledge that I gained within just a few minutes of conversing with people who are both similar to me and different from me,” said Monroe.

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Naouras Mousa Almatar, a freshman who attended the town hall, is a Syrian refugee. He was offered the chance to study in the United States through a program called the Syrian Student Project. His journey here, however, was not an easy one. Even before Trump’s immigration executive order, he experienced many issues obtaining a visa and he was also detained by Homeland Security for questioning for two hours upon arrival in New York.

Mousa Almatar believed that the town hall was very beneficial, and would like to see similar events occur on campus.

“The event was incredibly helping, to have people set together and join hearts to discuss one of the worst things that [has] ever happened to the country was great. Having people share their hearts and minds as Muslims, Americans, and even Non-Muslims and get together to share their fears … was beautiful and meaningful,” he said.

The overall energy of the open forum discussion was very accepting. All attendees were encouraged to speak and share their opinion, regardless of their view on the ban.

“To me, it was very valuable to see how many people understand and feel about this, that they were able to share ideas from both sides, and it was taken with open hearts and minds. Understanding each other forces us to move forward,” said Almatar.

Junior Sao Mir, however, wishes there was more debate over the ideas that were presented.

“I would have liked a bit more debate and discourse. It encourages people to go out and get informed. A circle of people agreeing with one another is unproductive,” he said, “Someone challenged me on this a week or so back, and I feel through the process of responding to him, I am more knowledgeable on this topic.”

From this event, Ali hopes that students will begin to embrace basic Lasallian values such as respect for human dignity and commitment to social change and that they stand up to fight for human and civil rights.

“We are an institution of learning, and we will not tolerate woeful ignorance and hateful rhetoric. We hope that people will be inspired to reach out to the other side and make a friend, or start a conversation,” he said, “Our hope is people will understand that it is their duty to hold their leaders accountable, whether they voted them in or not. All in all, [this is] an effort to create a safer and more inclusive campus and extended community.”