WKU student questions presidential candidate Donald Trump on Muslim Americans

Shantel-Ann Pettway

As the 2016 presidential candidates continue their campaign for the White House, some candidates’ stances are being questioned.

Des Moines, Iowa, sophomore Lillian Nellans returned to her alma mater, Urbandale High School, on Sept. 19 after she heard that presidential candidate Donald Trump would be speaking at the school’s homecoming.

According to William Petroski of USA Today, Trump participated in an invitation-only meet-and-greet with students and teachers in the Urbandale High School gym. He then spoke at a public event at Frerichs Field, the football field adjacent to the school.

Nellans has followed presidential campaigns, including Hillary Clinton’s and Martin O’Malley’s, since 2008. She is approaching current campaigns in the same spirit — with a love for politics.

An international affairs major, Nellans has been paying close attention to Trump in part because she feels it’s hard to ignore the comments he makes at his speaking engagements.

Samantha-Jo Roth of The Huffington Post said Trump’s appearance at Urbandale was his first public appearance after he declined to correct a man who claimed President Barack Obama was a Muslim at a New Hampshire rally.

“He’s been driving me crazy with some of his comments, so I thought it’d be perfect to get him to address issues I wanted clarity on,” Nellans said.

Nellans admitted she was nervous to speak to Trump when she approached the microphone, but she knew other people may have had similar questions.

Nellans asked Trump if he would ever have a Muslim American in his cabinet. Trump answered, “Yes.”

Nellans wasn’t satisfied with the abrupt answer. She was glad he took time to respond to her question but does not think it rectifies his previous comments about Muslim Americans.

“It feels very dismissive because he elaborated on everyone’s question,” she said.

Nellans believes all presidential candidates should address topics like islamophobia because there are major misconceptions about Muslim Americans and those who practice Islam.

Senior Hatim Alamri from Saudi Arabia thinks Trump didn’t answer Nellans’ question directly because he isn’t informed about race, religion or immigration.

“It’s a good tactic: If you don’t know about something, don’t speak about it,” Alamri said.

Islamophobia was conceptually introduced in a 1991 Runnymede Trust Report and defined as “unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.”

“I would love to say there is no such thing as islamophobia, but unfortunately it seems like it does exist,” Bowling Green sophomore Sanida Palavra said via email.

Palavra said she thinks the practice of islamophobia is only in places where there aren’t Muslims.

Nellans believes the two major misconceptions about Muslim Americans and Islam are that the faith teaches terrorism and hate towards other religions and that Muslim women are oppressed.

“Part of the misconceptions is because politicians and the media provide news that only focuses on the oppressive, scary and hateful things,” Nellans said.

Nellans studied abroad in Bosnia this past summer to enhance her skills in the Arabic language, learn the culture and help Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

The trip also allowed her to make a lot of Muslim friends. Nellans believes that getting to know Muslim Americans will help address misconceptions about this group of people.

“I know that intercultural communication between non-Muslim and Muslim American will make it hard to misunderstand the religion. All of the sudden, they’re humanized,” Nellans said.

Alamri agrees with Nellans’ claim that islamophobia will continue until people are educated about the religion and its believers.

“People will connect things they don’t know with things they already know,” Alamri said.

According to Alamri, all people see are terroristic attacks being related with Islam, but that’s not what Islam stands for.

“Islam is a really peaceful religion,” Alamri said.

While Alamri claimed not to be very religious, he is informed on the teachings in the Quran.

“Anytime I read the Quran, it brings me peace. It isn’t about shooting or violence but love,” he said.