Muslim students reflect on college experience in book
The recently published anthology “Growing Up Muslim: Muslim College Students in America Tell Their Life Stories,” places the number of students practicing Islam at the College between eight and 13 for each of the classes graduating between 2011 and 2015. Dartmouth students and alumni contributed 13 of the 14 stories in the compilation, co-edited by education professor emeritus Andrew Garrod.

Published March 13, the anthology is comprised of 14 biographical memoirs describing and reflecting on the experiences and struggles faced by Muslim college students in the U.S. Each story reflects on different themes that include Islamophobia, piety and sexuality. Garrod said he started to think about bringing together stories from Muslim students’ college experiences in 2009. He said he was interested in capturing the experiences of minority students, as he is intrigued by both the difficulties they encounter in college and their resilience. A widespread skepticism exists toward Muslims and Islam in the U.S., Garrod said. He said that Muslims have often been mistakenly branded as terrorists, particularly after the attacks of Sept. 11. “People have all sorts of preconceptions, often ill-founded, on Islam and Muslim students,” he said. “These stories can only shed light where there was darkness or ignorance and encourage readers to re-think their assumptions about this faith.” Garrod said he chose to bring together the stories because he thought collecting autobiographies would give a wider, more candid representation of the Muslim experience. “College social life is often not in accordance with the values that these Muslim students hold,” Garrod said, citing alcohol consumption and the prevalence of “random hook-ups.” The book’s introduction — written by Eboo Patel, founder of the Chicago-based nonprofit Interfaith Youth Core — effectively captures this tension, Garrod said. “Young Muslims are constantly negotiating the differences between families for whom faith and culture were matters of honor and North America’s youth culture, with its emphasis on questioning, exploring and inventing one’s own destiny,” Patel said in the introduction. Eight of the 14 stories in “Growing Up Muslim” were written under pseudonyms, as some students felt uncomfortable writing about topics like homosexuality due their often-controversial nature within the Muslim community, Garrod said. “If you give them anonymity, they will write about topics that are very personal and powerful,” Garrod said. “If you don’t, they are going to say, ‘Well, I can’t admit that my father was an alcoholic, I can’t admit my sister had a major eating disorder, I can’t admit I was sent away for two terms from Dartmouth because of plagiarism,” he said. Abdul-Rashid Alhassan ’16, who said he actively practiced Islam until recently, said he did not find it very difficult to adjust to being one of few Muslim students at Dartmouth, in part because he went to a Catholic high school. Dartmouth provides many opportunities for Muslims to congregate, he said, including during Eid al-Fitr, a religious celebration that occurs at the end of Ramadan. “I think the Muslim community on campus does a good job of finding each other and being cohesive,” Alhassan said. “Outside of worship, there is also a sense of community and a cultural aspect of Islam.” Sharjeel Syed ’16, a board member of the Muslim student association Al-Nur, said he actively practices Islam at Dartmouth. His religion, he said, profoundly impacts his life regardless of where he is. “[Islam] is kind of how I live my life,” he said. “It basically directs how I eat and how I sleep.” Syed said that because of the College’s religious diversity, he did not experience a shock when he moved from San Antonio to Hanover. “At Dartmouth, people are generally more accepting, a lot more interested and educated, so they don’t have ignorant biases against other faiths,” he said. Al-Nur president Hamza Abbasi ’16 said Dartmouth provides him with a sense of community and an opportunity to meet Muslims from across the U.S. and the world. Abbasi said he decided to attend Dartmouth in part because of a dinner organized by Al-Nur that he attended during Dimensions. Al-Nur plays a crucial role in providing spaces for gatherings and social events for the Muslim community, he said, citing the association’s termly potluck dinner. Garrod co-edited “Growing Up Muslim” with executive director of the Alliance for Inclusion and Prevention Robert Kilkenny. The two have worked together on similar anthologies, including “Mi Voz, Mi Vida,” “Adolescent Portraits,” “Mixed” and “Balancing Two Worlds.” Students and alumni whose essays were included in the anthology did not respond to request for comment by press time.
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