Religious Bigotry In A US Educational Institution -- The Sowing Of Discontent Among People Of Different Religions And Faiths?

10 February 2016

By Tariq A. Al Maeena

Who really benefits from the sowing of discontent among people of different religions and faiths?

Religious bigotry in the United States has reached unprecedented levels based on the increasing number of racially provoked crimes against Muslims and minorities of other faiths. In some instances, Sikhs and Hindus have been singled out.

This rise is undoubtedly fuelled by the outlandish claims of some of the US presidential contenders, chief among them being Donald Trump. In the case of people who follow the Islamic faith, it's not enough to read or hear of Muslims being marginalised because of their faith in scattered cases across America or singled out during rallies and booted out, as was the case recently of a Muslim woman who had attended a Trump rally, but in an election year, politicians will say anything to win votes. Votes mean power and that is the game they are currently playing.

Such public outbursts, however, have a profound effect on all those whose ears they fall upon. They create suspicion and division, which can eventually lead to acts of violence. That is why a great deal of trust is placed in institutions of learning to prevent that; to carry forth the message of the democratic principles of the United States of America.

Unfortunately, some institutes of higher learning have lost that direction. Last month, Wheaton College, a Protestant college in the state of Illinois, started termination procedures against an associate professor of political science, Larycia Hawkins, for very strange reasons. She was placed on administrative leave in December when she decided to wear a headscarf during the Christmas season to show solidarity with Muslims during a strained period when more and more reports of targeted violence against Muslims had begun to spring up all over.

At the time she had posted a message on social media that Muslims and Christians ''worship the same God'' a fact that did not sit well with the college administration. ''I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,'' Hawkins wrote on her Facebook account. ''And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.''The excuse put out for the move by college officials was that they needed time ''to determine whether her statement puts her at odds with the faith perspective that is required of those who are employed by the school''.

Hawkins was not impressed by the school's response. ''It felt really devastating to receive that news, given that I've committed nine years of my life to teaching in an institution that I really believe embodies the spirit of the liberal arts in a Christian context.'' Her post was not actually a theological treatise but rather a statement that meant ‘I stand in solidarity with women wearing the hijab, as I think Jesus would, as he came to embody what it means to love thy neighbour and love God and love yourself,'' as she explained.

''I've spent most of my adult career committed to being a professor, a scholar and doing so in a Christian context. I'm not the ‘hijab professor'. I'm the professor that's trying to teach my students to move beyond theoretical solidarity, sitting on our laurels in the classroom, towards embodied politics, embodied solidarity. That's for all of us.''

Parting of ways

The matter appears to have been settled earlier this month when Hawkins and Wheaton College issued a joint statement that said the two sides had ''reached a place of resolution and reconciliation''. It included an apology by Wheaton College's president to Hawkins and a mutual agreement that the two part ways. Wheaton College also committed to creating a scholarship in Hawkins' name ''for interns to conduct summertime peace and conflict studies''.

For various reasons, strangers to Islam have come to believe that Muslims worship a different God than Christians and Jews. This is totally untrue, since Allah is simply the Arabic word for ‘God' — and there is only one God. Muslims worship the God of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus — peace be upon them all. However, it is certainly true that Jews, Christians and Muslims all have different concepts of Almighty God. For example, Muslims — like Jews — reject the Christian beliefs of the Trinity and the Divine Incarnation. This, however, does not mean that each of these three religions worships a different God — because there is only one true God. Who really benefits from the sowing of discontent among people of different religions and faiths? What is the ultimate goal? Many in the West think it is an Islamic mission to force Islam down their throats. Balderdash I say! The Quran specifically states that ''You have your religion and I have mine''.

To witness respected institutions of learning fall to such levels of petty-mindedness in disguised Islamophobia is a tragic consequence of the false alarms being raised. The college officials should have read up on Islam before falsely maligning one of their own tenured professors who spoke the truth as she saw it. While there was plenty of smiles, tears and heartfelt expressions of support at a press conference earlier this month, the truth of the matter was that Larycia Hawkins was forced to walk away.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him on Twitter at

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