MU hosts panel on how to combat religious intolerence

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COLUMBIA - MU's Religious Studies Department hosted a "town hall" forum at the University of Missouri Law School on Tuesday at 6 pm. The town hall was originally intended to be at Arts and Science but was moved due to the size of the audience.

Professors in the religious studies department put the event together after seeing a rise in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on campus. They wanted to create a space for solidarity and support for students.

Ammer Ahmed, a member of Mizzou's Muslim Student Organization, was a panelist at the town hall. He said he attributes part of this rise in religious intolerance to President Donald Trump's election.

"We were all scared, I was scared to be honest," Ahmed said. "It's very hard to be discriminated against so explicitly and outright. You'd be a fool not be scared by that."

The panelists each talked about their personal experiences with discrimination and how best to tackle religious intolerance. Ahmed recounted a recent incident where his sister, who wears a headscarf, called him crying from her car in Kansas City. He said she was driving on the highway when a man pulled up next her, began yelling at her from his car, and threw a plastic water bottle at her window.

"For the sisters, they go through a much different experience," Ahmed said. "It's very blatant they are Muslim from their hijab. So it takes a lot of courage to wear it."

Each of the panelists touched on the fear students faced as a result of acts of discrimination. This past month, two students were arrested for anti-Semitic harassment. Panelist Jeanne Snodgrass, Executive Director of MU's Hillel, said more conversation about anti-Semitism has been needed recently.

"I think there has been an increase in anti-Semitism, in general, on college campuses and all over," Snodgrass said. "We've seen this nationally with bomb threats to Jewish community centers, with vandalism to Jewish cemeteries, one of which was in St. Louis, just a little bit ago."

The panel included a diverse mix of Jewish and Muslim community members. Snodgrass said minority religions like Judaism and Islam had a history of coming together to support each other against discrimination.

"There has been a long standing understanding between Muslims and Jews in the United States because both are minority populations," Snodgrass said. "There has been a lot of work together in a lot of different communities all over this country."

After panelists gave their opening remarks, the moderator opened the forum up for questions and comments by the audience.