“You find yourself getting defensive about a faith that they clearly don’t know anything about. Muslims aren’t violent people and the fact that people are claiming these baseless and terrible things about the Muslim community here in America… It makes no sense to affiliate us with the Muslims across the sea. I know as much as you do. I get the same information from the media as you do. I can’t say that I’m an expert on Islamic faith. Living in the western world and going to school here allowed me to understand the connection between the Abrahamic faiths. Because of my faith and my American education, I can see the connections and I can say, ‘Hey, you believe in what I believe and despite what we call it, we are still very similar.’” –Zainab Dossaji
After a late night in her astronomy lab, Zainab Dossaji was preparing for an even later night of studying in the library. Originally from Spartanburg, South Carolina, Dossaji is a junior in the Honors College double majoring in English and political science. While she loves the College, she did not see herself ending up here.
“When I was applying to schools, I wanted the highly competitive ones – Emory, Tulane, UVA – but I got into the William Aiken Fellows Society here, as well as the Honors College,” she says. “After visiting, I felt an extremely personal connection with the teachers. They clearly wanted me to be a part of the college and were willing to help me in any way. College of Charleston felt like the best fit.”
But college was the last thing on her mind after submitting all of her applications.
“Applying to those schools was intense. It made me get into things that I didn’t want to get into – things about my identity or about my future,” she recalls.
At the same time she was applying to schools, Donald Trump was running for president. “It was really hard for me to openly admit that Islam was my religious affiliation in a school in the South. It made me uncomfortable and I didn’t want to bring it up, but those essays brought it to light.”
Dossaji started seeing posts on social media from people she had hung out with and it seemed that Trump was saying everything they wanted to. “I was applying to schools with reputations of highly intellectual populations to get out of the South,” she admits.
Still, her faith has remained strong. Her parents have always been the type of people to enforce that Islam is about treating people well, giving to the poor, the education of women, and acceptance of other religions.
“My parents and my grandparents have definitely experienced discrimination. It makes them wonder why they’re even here. It’s one of those things you have to try to fight for everyone else. It’s not like, ‘Hey, I’m going to experience it for myself,’ but ‘Hey, my little brother is going to have to experience this.’ It has taught me to pick my battles.”
Her little brother will undoubtedly have to go through the very same things she has. “I hope that as he gets older he can make decisions based on what he actually feels instead of what society tells him to feel,” she says. “To me, that’s imperative.”
Dossaji’s involvement in the College community is substantial; she is on the Honor Board, writes for the Cistern Yard, and participates in Honors Engaged. She strongly believes that education is the absolute best way to solve issues of racism, discrimination and ignorant hatred.
“We all learn history, so why is that we skip over when the Islamic faith was created, when the Jewish faith was created, etc. Learning about what it means to be a Muslim, what do we actually do, is essential to building a tolerant community,” she says.
She hopes that with her education she will be able to “look back when I’m old and say that I actually impacted someone’s life, whether that be through my career or something else. I just have to make a change to show that it was worth it. And that change starts here at the College of Charleston, it starts with my education.”
Lauren Vega is a junior from Huntington, West Virginia, studying arts management and international studies in the Honors College at the College of Charleston. She is also a National Merit Scholar, a scholar in the International Studies Program, and a 200-hour registered yoga teacher.