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Rep. Tlaib, other speakers come to Rutgers for Muslims for Peace event

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) attended the event, which was organized by Muslims for Peace. – Photo by Benjamin Chelnitsky

Muslims for Peace held its 14th Annual Interfaith Prophet Muhammad Conference at Rutgers student center on Busch campus on Sunday. The conference included a number of speakers, including Palestinian-American Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who spoke on migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in the United States.

Prior to the event, demonstrators, both in support of and in opposition to the conference, rallied outside. One group of individuals held signs in support of Tlaib and chanted in support of Palestine. Some members of the Jewish community joined them to condemn Zionism. A separate, smaller group held Israeli flags and were heard making Islamophobic comments, with one individual asking the pro-Palestine group, "What's your favorite designer explosive device"?

Sakina Abdi, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, gave the opening remarks for the conference.

“Muslims for Peace is a nonprofit organization that aims to bridge people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds together. Muslims for Peace has a mission to transcend boundaries of faith and unite every community on the basis of education,” Abdi said. “We believe that educating each other about our differences is the best way to interconnect people, increase tolerance and facilitate the peacemaking process around the world.”

Afsheen Shamsi, a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and director of communications and marketing for the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, spoke about her resolution about migrant families.

She said this resolution calls on elected officials from every level, including President Donald J. Trump, to reunify migrant families, end migrant detention and defund immigration enforcement, allowing families to go through immigration proceedings with legal representation.

“I have been in a lot of pain over the inhumane treatment of migrant families at our borders in our detention centers and in the interior of the country,” Shamsi said. “Many of these families are fleeing violence or persecution in the countries of origin.”

Dr. Craig Considine, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Rice University, spoke at the event. 

“We’re here because we are supporting this awakening of the conscious, a movement of humanizing the other: the refugees, the asylum seekers and the migrants. It’s our obligation as humans, and also as people of conscious and of faith to welcome them,” he said. “We all want to embrace humanity and welcome these people into the fold of our communities.”

Considine also said people should actively work to promote racial equality rather than simply allowing refugees into the country and tolerating them. He said people should focus on becoming interconnected and engaging with people different from ourselves.

The event included other speakers, such as Kashmir Maryam, a writer and performer, as well as Dr. Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini, founder and director of the Islamic Center of Orange County and president of the Shia Muslim Council of Southern California. Maryam read a poem about strong women within her faith and al-Qazwini discussed the importance of listening to others even if they are your opponents. 

Tlaib was the last to speak and was a publicly anticipated participant in the conference.

“For people that understand the importance of someone like me serving in the United States Congress: Thank you so much for allowing me to continue to speak truth for all forms of oppression all around our country, as well as all around the world,” Tlaib said.

Tlaib, a Detroit, Michigan native, said being able to grow up in the city was a constant reminder of various movements such as the civil rights movement and movements around labor rights. She also spoke on how her home community included all types of people, regardless of their personal affiliations.

“That’s the community I grew up in, a community that didn’t ‘other’ folks, didn’t use these forms of kind of hate because they feared someone that maybe someone had a different faith or anything,” Tlaib said. “There was a shared value of understanding that all of us want the same exact thing: for our children to be safe, for all of us to be safe, for all of us to have access to opportunities to better our lives, to live in human dignity.”

While she was speaking, a protester interrupted and accused Tlaib of being anti-semitic. Tlaib agreed to address his concerns, but Rutgers police officers promptly removed him from the event while other members of the audience chanted in support of Tlaib.

She continued speaking despite the interruption, and finished by saying a part of being an American is welcoming opposition.

“Even if I have to use a bullhorn, I will, because you expect nothing less than you deserve, nothing less than me to speak very loudly about things that are happening in your life right now,” Tlaib said.

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