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Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers holds press conference amid hate crime investigation

On Thursday, the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers (CILRU) hosted a press conference, in which Atiya Aftab, a chair of CILRU's Board of Trustees and a Rutgers alum, Kaiser Aslam, CILRU's chaplain and Nora Asker, the president of the Muslim Public Relations Council and a School of Arts and Sciences senior, discussed Tuesday's bias crime and the safety of Muslim, Arab and Palestinian students. – Photo by @schanmalik /

On Thursday, the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers (CILRU) held a press conference on the College Avenue campus at approximately 11 a.m. addressing the act of bias that occurred at CILRU on Eid al-Fitr, which is now under investigation as a hate crime, as previously reported by The Daily Targum.

The conference commenced with a prayer and words from Atiya Aftab, the chair of CILRU's Board of Trustees and a Rutgers alum. She also introduced Kaiser Aslam, CILRU's chaplain and Nora Asker, the president of the Muslim Public Relations Council and a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

She noted that CILRU hired the nation's first chaplain at a public higher education institution. CILRU itself is also the first Muslim chaplaincy at a public university that operates full-time, according to Aslam.

She listed CILRU's values, including peace, justice, free speech, freedom of worship, academic freedom, health care access and safety.

She then asked questions about the on-and-off-campus anti-Palestinian groups and the treatment of Palestinian and Muslim community members, including Aslam.

"Why is it that the days after October 7, our chaplain was deemed unwelcome, and his presence to some was seen as threatening because of his call to humanize Falastini — Palestinian life?" Aftab asked.

She then thanked University and state officials for showing support via published statements and attendance at a CILRU event following the break-in.

Asker then stepped up to the podium and said the incident was part of a larger pattern of Islamophobia intensifying on campus. She said CILRU was a place where Muslim students could feel safe and comfortable.

She said she personally found safety at CILRU when praying, as she was uncomfortable praying in a public space on campus. She said she also visited CILRU seeking religious clarity.

"Now is not the time for empty justice. Now is the time for action. We urge the Rutgers administration to take concrete steps in order to ensure the safety and security of our Muslim community here at Rutgers," she said. "We call upon the administration to protect and safeguard your Muslim and Arab students, not just reactively, but proactively."

She said that the University administration has failed to resolve past incidents and concerns for Muslim, Arab and Palestinian students, which she claimed allowed for the continuance of alleged discriminatory attacks.

Aslam took Asker's place at the podium and discussed how CILRU invited the University administration to take tangible actions for the safety of the Muslim community at Rutgers.

In response to a question, the chaplain said that the investigation is currently ongoing, and the authorities are reviewing potential video evidence of the incident.

While acknowledging that the incident was likely planned with Eid al-Fitr in mind, he noted that the holiday instills its observers with a feeling of resilience.

"If someone wants to do something like this, we're not going to ruin our moment of enjoyment or our day of celebration. We're going to continue to do that even more now. Because, what, someone tried to stop us," Aslam said.

He noted that support after the incident extended both nationally and internationally, citing outreach from Dallas, Texas, as well as Malaysia. Since the incident, CILRU has reposted supportive messages on Instagram, including a post by Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh, a Rutgers alum and the founder and editor-in-chief of "Muslim."

"Without the CILRU and (Aslam), there would be no 'Muslim,'" Al-Khatahtbeh said.

Aslam concluded by discussing the recent earthquake and eclipse, in which members of CILRU's group chat asked for guidance on what prayers were appropriate for these rare geological and celestial events. He said these situations emphasized CILRU's role as a space for community members to rediscover safety in times of uncertainty.

"As one student so eloquently put it, that growing up as a Muslim, especially in this era, I've spent so much time and effort telling people what I'm not and telling people what Islam isn't — that I don't actually have a space or access to a space that allows me to figure out what Islam really is or what being Muslim really means," he said. "And this is what this space really does represent, so that's why it hurts when it gets attacked."

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