CSLEPS hosted over 250 people in Piedmont Ballroom of Talley Student Union on Thursday evening as part of their “Challenging Anti-Muslim Sentiments” event. Four panelists spoke to the crowd about their experiences challenging anti-Muslim sentiments, and how the NC State community can help combat an increasing level of hatred and discrimination against Muslims.

The event began with a short introduction from Mike Mullen, vice chancellor and dean for academic and student affairs, in which he emphasized NC State’s goal to create an environment where respect and understanding are the standard among students from diverse backgrounds. He also acknowledged the university’s continuous support for the Muslim community and the importance of its continuation.

Doha Hindi, student intern for the CSLEPS and head organizer of the event, introduced the panelists and spoke about the current nature of politics in the U.S.

“As the political climate in the United States has become more polarized, we are faced with an unprecedented reality from everyday discrimination of minorities to immigration bans,” Hindi said. “The time is now for us to come together, create meaningful dialogue and take actions to change our future for the better.”

Anna Bigelow, religious studies professor at NC State, spoke about recognizing the diversity within Islam and the importance of Americans educating themselves about Islamic history and culture in order to understand the bigger story.

“We have to recognize that 1.7 billion people do not think the same way or act the same way, but they all share an understanding that God is one, that all of humanity has a responsibility to respond to God’s call, and to act upon His expectations,” Bigelow said. “There may be differences in the way people experience that, but that’s why we take classes on Islamic studies.

Bigelow explained the history of Muslims in the United States, as well as the importance of recognizing Muslims as fellow Americans.

“There has been Muslims in America longer than there’s been an America,” Bieglow said. “And that is a reality that often gets lost when Islam is treated like a foreign religion, a religion that does not belong here, that hasn’t been part of our history.”

Fonda Muhammad, a Muslim American teacher, shared her personal experiences with Islamophobia in education, as well as ways for teachers to offer their help in combating anti-Muslim sentiments in the classroom. She recommended learning about Muslim culture through literature, and discussing and analyzing it with students.

Shadi Sadi, an activist in the Muslim community and a NC State alumnus, spoke about what he called fighting darkness with light, and played a trailer of a documentary about the lives of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha, the three North Carolina Muslims who were murdered in Chapel Hill in 2015. Sadi announced the opening of the Light House Project, a community house where people can work together on ideas, on Feb. 10, in memory of “Our Three Winners.” The idea for this project came from one of Barakat’s tweets from 2014, where he expressed his wish to support the youth in his community with their projects.

Imam Abdullah Antepli, Islamic religious leader at Duke Divinity School, spoke about the importance of community involvement in combating the messages of hate. Antepli sees that allowing for the hate speech to continue will allow it to grow to include other communities besides Muslims, as history has shown.

“Don’t only blame the haters, don’t only blame the presidential candidates,” Antepli said. “Something has gone really really bad, that we have to stop the blame here.”

Conner Enloe, a sophomore studying communication, found the event to be important and relevant in light of the recently administered travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries.

“What was said was definitely inspiring to me and hopefully a lot of other people to be more involved in being activists for change,”  Enloe said.