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Letter to the Editor: Why we need to have open conversation about diversity

Editor’s note: The following is a piece submitted by a group of Belmont students who are Muslim. The views and opinions expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Belmont Vision. Letters to the editor help us accomplish our mission of expressing “student news, student views.” The Vision welcomes readers to submit letters to the editors through our email at

As Belmont University continues to diversify its student population as a main initiative of Vision 2020, recent events have revealed the necessity for a campus-wide open dialogue about minority students of all kinds in the context of the broader Belmont community. We call upon Belmont University to welcome conversation addressing issues of inclusivity and diversity, in all aspects, regarding all members of our Belmont community.

 We applaud and admire Kawal Jooma–a Muslim student– and Reena Patel–a Hindu student– for their courage in speaking out about their RA application processes that led them to be denied due to their respective faiths.

We wholeheartedly appreciate the Belmont administration’s apologies that were made public in Thursday night’s article regarding the RA application process concerning non-Christian applicants. We also commend efforts by Belmont administration to rectify the RA situation and working to make students who felt alienated and offended by this issue feel more comfortable on campus.

We believe that this positive response by administration creates an opportunity for productive dialogue about the experiences of minority students on campus.

Following the news that broke out regarding the aforementioned RA applicants, the marginalization of Muslim students continued at Wednesday’s chapel, as the guest speaker, Dr. Lamin Sanneh of Yale University, spoke dangerously false claims about the Islamic faith.

As described in the event information posted on MyBelmont, Lamin Sanneh “was born into a Muslim royal family in West Africa. He received his Ph.D. in African Islamic History from the University of London and has been a professor at Harvard, Cambridge and now Yale.”

“He is the author of 14 books, including ‘Disciples of all Nations: Pillars of World Christianity’ and his autobiography ‘Summoned from the Margin: 21st Homecoming of an African.’ He will speak on the topic of Global Christianity in the 21st Century.”

During his talk, Dr. Sanneh made the claim that Muslims perceive Christians as adopting pagan ideology. He bases this claim on his theory that, “Romans did not receive prophets, therefore Muslims consider them pagans” and since Christians use the Latin and Roman scripture of the Bible, Muslims consider Christians pagans.

This creates the false idea that we, as Muslim students at Belmont, do not show respect and appreciation for the Christian community. This false idea also promotes tension among students where tension does not belong.

As students who express genuine love for people of all faiths and who actively work to build bridges between the cultural and religious differences within the Belmont community, it was disheartening for us as Muslim students to hear Dr. Sanneh make false claims about our faith.

Moreover, the Islamic Holy book–the Quran–in addition to referring to Christians as well as Jew, as People of the Book, i.e people who have received and believed in previous revelation from God’s prophets, the Quran gives reverence to the religious devotion of Christians and identifies them as a people who are nearest in love to Muslims.

In light of these recent events, it has been a difficult past few days for Muslim students at Belmont University.

As we write this, the pain in our hearts is unbearable as we struggle to come to terms with feelings of rejection and alienation. In addition, minority students could be made to feel as though their identities are an offensive presence on campus.

 We are even more disappointed with the members of the community who, by inviting and hosting Dr. Sanneh, have evoked hurt in a community we genuinely love and have invested our time, energy and money into. Furthermore, the idea that the individuals responsible for hosting this event found it necessary to offer Muslim students a special invitation to the event suggests insensitivity at best, and disregard for our faith at worst.

As Muslim students sitting in that chapel convocation as these claims about our faith were made, we felt completely uncomfortable, alienated and offended. We can only hope this was a misunderstanding, and that this misguided message was not specifically intended for us.

However, in the same way that Belmont students who lead organizations on campus actively take precautionary measures to avoid situations that could potentially offend any social, racial, ethnic or religious demographic when bringing speakers to campus, we ask for the same precautionary standard to be upheld by all members of the Belmont University community.

It is with great sadness and heartbreak to say that we feel that Belmont seems to desire diversity not as a goal to create opportunities for minority students to be equal, full and

successful members of the Belmont community but to merely create a better, more diverse and enriching learning experience for the majority while using the minority students as tools in the Belmont Diversity Toolbox: used to fit a particular narrative, periodically rejected, disregarded and alienated in the process.

As the Belmont community currently works to actualize the mission of Vision 2020, the proclaimed value for diversity at Belmont University as a part of that mission must be reflected in a way that reaches beyond statistical values.

We look forward to a university culture that embraces and celebrates all of the identities that weave the fabric of our campus.

With love and hope,

Dina El-Rifai

Sami Ansari

Salwa Saba

Khadija Ali Amghaiab

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