Peacemaker Najeeba Syeed discusses interfaith cooperation in a time of Islamaphobia

By Afnan Nehela

(Daily Collegian Archive)

Over 50 University of Massachusetts students and faculty members gathered at the Old Chapel Thursday evening to hear a lecture by peacemaker Najeeba Syeed, discussing interfaith cooperation in a time of Islamophobia.

Syeed is an Associate Professor of Interreligious Education at Claremont School of Theology and Director of the Center for Global Peacebuilding. She is known as a peacemaker, healer and scholar, according to her website.

She began the lecture by explaining that there tend to be assumptions of how prejudice works. She explained that in interreligious cooperation and campus-based activities, people usually believe that mere ignorance is the only root of hate.

She added that many individuals are under the false impression that meeting one friendly Muslim can immediately overcome someone’s prejudice of Islam.

Syeed also spoke of the issue present in having many communities on college campuses that tend to be “invisibilized.”

“What we do not see is the African American Muslim community on our college campuses. All of the historical issues that the African American community faces such as police community relations is coupled now with Islamophobia,” she said.

“If one does not acknowledge the history of particular communities at the table then we are rendering invisible forms of added discrimination,” Syeed added.

In hopes of finding practicality through her lecture, she gave five tips on how one could engage in successful interfaith cooperation.

The first tip was to “engage multiple religious voices from one tradition,” she continued. “We have to get dissatisfied with a singular representation of a community.” She explains that this is important in order to avoid the belief in invisible voices.

Her second tip was to “make relationships in the time of peace—when there isn’t a conflict, when there isn’t a [travel] ban pending, when there isn’t a flare up between communities.”

She went on to urge students living off of the UMass campus to see the larger religious presences of those of different creeds.

The last tip she discussed was to be comfortable with conflict.

“I no longer believe that there is anything as a safe space…Conflict is inevitable and that conflict is a part of growth.”

Syeed said she believes that not having conflict does not prepare “minoritized” students for the reality of negotiation.

Senior civil engineering major Ahmad Hamza really agreed with this idea, and said that “engaging and challenging and learning of different views and opinions is the best way to train ourselves mentally and spiritually to deal with challenges.”

CD Lefebvre, a senior social thought and political economy major, studies ideas of social inequality, and said that the lecture was “very reinforcing and reaffirmed how emotions play and the implementation of policies that are directly targeted toward immigrants and refugees.”

Other students present enjoyed the different perspective Syeed brought to the table.

Sophomore political science and journalism double major, Phillip Bishop, said, “I really really enjoyed [the lecture], it was a lot of really interesting and eye opening perspectives of stuff that I definitely have never thought of before.”

Bishop says “Islamophobia” was the buzzword that caught his attention.

Afnan Nehela is a Collegian correspondent and can be reached at [email protected]