Muslim Chaplain at the University of Michigan encounters hate-speech

Earlier this year, Mohammed Tayssir Safi became the first Muslim Chaplain at a public university. Safi has quickly developed many meaningful relationships with students, worked on interfaith efforts, and aided with campaigns to combat campus Islamophobia. While these efforts have been applauded by many, there seem to be a select few who disapprove of the existence of a Muslim chaplain on campus, or maybe even the visible presence of Muslims on a campus.

Earlier this week, Safi, was studying at a cafe when a man (who was on the phone) sat near to him. The man’s phone conversation included many inflammatory remarks directed at Islam and Muslims, seemingly to anger Safi and bait him into reacting in a violent or angry way. When this did not happen, the man began to speak about the cowardice of Muslims on the phone.

It is unclear to me whether the man knew if Safi was the campus chaplain, but if he was aware of this, one could claim that this was a deliberate attempt to bait Safi into losing his temper and then launch campus-wide criticisms of the chaplain and the position altogether. Either way, this event shows that Islamophobia is prevalent, even on campuses often deemed as diverse and tolerant.

Here is Safi’s full account of the event:

I wanted to share with you all an incident that just took place an hour or so ago. I had a wonderful morning, alhamdulillah. We were in great talks with the Board of Trustees about the future of the Muslim community at the U of M this morning at a retreat in Canton. It ended and I made my way to campus to get some work done before my meeting with the Islamophobia committee. I was suppose to have a logic class online but it got canceled last minute. I made my way over to Espresso Royale where the meeting would be taking place thinking I could grab a lemonade and a light lunch.

After sitting down for a moment or two a man walked across a nearly empty coffee shop and sat next to me on a sofa in the back. I continued to work diligently as the man pulled out his laptop and began to fidget with the keys. Within a few moments I could hear someone speaking over some type of audio or video from his computer. When I glanced over I found it odd that he had ear phones on but the sound was clearly coming from the speakers since I could hear it. I paid it no mind and got back to work. I thought if he couldn’t figure it out in a few minutes I’d play some qasa’id on my computer and put on some headphones.

A few moments later I began to hear Arabic over his speakers. As my ears perked up I could hear the beautiful name of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace). I concentrated my listening and it became obvious to me that the voice was attacking our beloved Prophet and accusing him of all of these malevolent things. I glanced over at the man but he now had the laptop up to his face and it was as though he was attempting to listen to what it was saying. I turned back to my screen and I could hear him playing it a few times.

My mind began to race. I was trying to figure out what would be the appropriate response. The man was clearly in his late 30’s or early 40’s, white, and dressed casually. I began to wonder if the poor guy knew what filth was being spewed from his speakers. I then heard those same speakers repeat the same vitriol in English.

At this point my ego was in full swing. My ego many ages ago would have taken a swing at the man right then and there. However I knew that was not the Prophetic way and that doing so would be a sin and not pleasing to the Messenger of God (Allah bless him and grant him peace). I thought to myself, should I speak to him? Should I argue with him? Should I ask him to play his vitriol to himself? I couldn’t effectively separate my lower desires and ego from what would be the wise, prophetic, and Muhammadan way to do things.

I decided to text my good friend and ask him his opinion. A fellow alum and a good friend of mine, Amjad Tarsin, quickly replied. He told me to ignore him and “turn away from the ignorant.” I decided to follow his advice, particularly because I couldn’t trust my own feelings at the moment due to any hidden desire I might have to want and respond to such hateful speech.

By this point the man with the computer had moved to taking a “phone call” in which he was supposedly talking to a friend about how Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma city bomber) had the right intentions but had failed and why Islam was wrong. As I packed up I could hear him shouting to the man on the phone, “why does he have to run away with his tale between his legs.”

I walked out and moved to the register. I informed the barista of the man’s hate speech. The barista without hearing another word moved away from the register but before he could even head over to the back of the store found the man walking out himself on the phone repeating over and over, “why does he have to run away.”

The barista and I looked at one another and he apologized for the incident. I explained to him that I wanted to do something but I didn’t own that space and I didn’t want to cause the owner any harm or disturb other customers. The barista quickly dismissed those concerns telling me he would remove any such person immediately and ban them for good. We exchanged names and a strong handshake signifying our support for that which is good.

As I sat back down feeling so saddened at hearing such horrible things about our beloved I couldn’t help but think about all of you. I am sure many of you have experienced similar incidents or God forbid, worse. I also began to think about the women in our community who so nobly carry themselves, veil and all. These beacons of piety and prophetic practice follow in the footsteps of the mothers of believers and the righteous of the ancients. While what we wear by no means dictates our piety I think one would be hard pressed to ignore that the women in our community who do choose to wear the veil are representing our faith on a daily basis. This representation puts them at risk of such hatred much more than the men of our community who can clearly fade into the masses.

I am not righting this to encourage this type of dress or that. What you wear on your body is your business and I support you as a believer regardless. I just wanted to share with you an incident that hit home for me and to highlight the plight many of our sisters face day in and day out, may God reward them.

To think that the ladies in our community face such disgusting behavior is indeed troubling. I plead with all of our community to stand by them as is befitting. That should any of us experience bias or hate we report it. You can always email or call me or the Islamophobia committee. Similarly the very fact that the barista was also disgusted by the man’s behavior proves that there good people willing to help and removing the hatred in our communities. We should be optimistic and assume the best in people.

I pray God grants us all eternity in heaven in the companionship of our beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) who was treated worse than we can imagine by the ignorant of his time and was always calm, peaceful, loving, merciful and never played the part of a victim. May his beauty radiate throughout your heart and mine



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