In Time Of Backlash, What It's Like To Be A Muslim In Idaho
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This past week, more than 1,000 people gathered at the quad on the campus of Idaho State University in the town of Pocatello, Idaho. They weren't there for a pep rally or some kind of graduation event. Businesspeople, community leaders, students and teachers gathered there in an effort to hold their community together, because for the past couple of years, the city of Pocatello has been locked in an intense debate over diversity - in particular, over how to integrate the hundreds of Muslim students who've come to ISU from countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Pakistani-born doctor Fahim Rahim has lived in Pocatello since 2005 with his family. And he has found himself at the center of this conversation. Dr. Rahim joins me now on the line. Thanks so much for being with us.
FAHIM RAHIM: Well, thanks for having me on the show, Rachel.
MARTIN: I saw pictures on Facebook from the event. And there was a picture, Rahim, on your feed, with people carrying signs that said, I love my Muslim neighbor. Why would that sign be necessary?
RAHIM: You know, at times, we have to stand for what really makes a difference. The reason why most of the community came out is they wanted to show the world that we are not intolerant. We are not racist. And yes, there has been some incidents of some hate crimes, which was really, really sad to happen in our community. And they wanted to show their support.
MARTIN: What were some of those incidents? Can you detail what happened?
RAHIM: So a couple of incidents that happened in the community - some notes were left on the cars saying that, you know, you camel-riding Muslims go back to your camel country. Some signs said, you know, raghead Muslims, why are you here? And there was some breaking into the car, some burglaries around the community. And sadly, you know, it's like a snowball effect. You start with some small incidents, and sometimes the things, you know, take a wrong turn. And the idea was to revert it back to what it should be.
MARTIN: If we could back up, Eastern Idaho is a long ways away from Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, where many of these students and community leaders like you have moved from. What has attracted this diverse group of people to this corner of the world and this corner of Idaho?
RAHIM: You know, many things - there many parts of the United States where there are good opportunities - low cost of living, education. Most of the students that moved here came because of education. I moved here 11 years ago from New York City, where I lived for seven years and trained, because I was looking for the quality of life - the outdoor life, the low cost of living and the community itself.
MARTIN: As I have been following this, it seemed that a lot of the controversy stemmed from an effort by some of these students - Muslim students at ISU - to build a mosque. What did the debate look like in Pocatello over that decision? And we should say, the mosque eventually was erected, but not without controversy.
RAHIM: Right - yes. University students and the Muslim community slowly grew here. And when they grew, they felt like they had a need to have a central Muslim community center which can also be identified as a mosque. So a lot of these kids rallied with the community members - raised the funds to build the mosque. The problem is, Rachel, we are fearful of the unknown, right? We fear that don't know. And as the Muslim community grew in this isolated, small Eastern Idaho community, there are some cultural clashes. I mean, if you wake up one day and you see a bunch of women with hijab or burqa, and you see that people look different, and there's no interaction on a personal level, then we will be fearful. And that was pretty - understanding of any community that grows. Many parts of the United States have, in the past, grown like this.
MARTIN: I read now that several of the Muslim students at ISU are thinking about leaving. What can you tell us about that? Is that true?
RAHIM: So I spoke with a lot of students. Yes, there are few students who are going to leave. There are a few students who are going to transfer to other universities. But a big majority students are going to stay. And they want to stay. And they have the same feeling that, yes, they have not been persecuted or been a victim of intolerance. So that is a little bit of a, you know, clarification that needs to happen on both sides.
MARTIN: Dr. Fahim Rahim of Pocatello, Idaho, thanks so much for talking with us.
RAHIM: Well, thanks for having me on the show, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.