Brandeis University’s newly renovated Muslim prayer space and lounge was recently vandalized in an incident that has since sparked a loud outcry from the campus and unified the university in a display of solidarity with the Muslim community.
The gathering place for Muslim prayer and events on March 5 was found in disarray, an apparent act of vandalism that is still under investigation by the Brandeis Office of Public Safety, according to Andrew Gully, the senior vice president of communications and external affairs at Brandeis.
“What was clearly evident was that there was vandalism,” Gully told the Daily. “Lamps were upturned, computers and printers were unplugged, a Quran was missing, and silverware was taken out of the kitchen, bent and destroyed in an effort to open a sealed door.”
The prayer space just a month earlier had completed $80,000 worth of renovations, but already changes concerning its use have been implemented in response to the incident.
Imam Talal Eid, the Muslim chaplain at Brandeis, explained that the door to the space was previously kept open for all students to use freely. The university is now going to lock the door at night and install an I.D. card reader that will permit entry after 8 p.m. only to students who have requested access.
The motivation behind the act could not be determined, but the Brandeis Chaplaincy sees this as an isolated incident and not a manifestation of any malicious intent on the part of a larger group.
“It sounds like vandalism; it can be interpreted as crime, but we were not able to get to any conclusion,” Talal Eid told the Daily. “We took it as any event. But I felt sad, of course.”
Talal Eid stressed that this incident in no way reflects the atmosphere of the school, which according to its official slogan is centered on “Community, Opportunity, Justice.”
“We don’t have tension in the university, we have good relations with everyone,” Talal Eid said. “Jewish students cook food for the Muslim students, Muslims attend Jewish events. We have healthy relations all around.”
Brandeis officials highlighted the campus’ response to the incident as evidence of the solidarity between religious groups and clubs. Gully noted that many people came together after the incident to decry the vandalism and promote peace and acceptance on campus.
“The four chaplains signed an e-mail that went campuswide supporting the Muslim students,” Gully said. “There was a strong outpouring of support for affected students and condemnation of whoever got into that space.”
Talal Eid, whose Quran was stolen by the perpetrator, said that Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz presented him with a new Quran, and members of the student body have written him over 600 letters in a show of solidarity.
“I’ve received more e-mails than I am able to respond to,” Talal Eid said. “We [the Muslim community at Brandeis] always have that kind of support.”
Spearheaded by the leaders of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), students last week organized a vigil to unite the campus.
According to MSA President Neda Eid, the vigil was held at a central spot on campus, the Peace Circle, where there was a turnout of nearly 150 people, who were also joined by students walking past who stopped to witness the ceremony.
“It was a means of reaction,” Neda Eid stated. “We were not angry. We just wanted a way to react to this.”
She said the event was inspired by one student’s creation of a Facebook page.
“A group was created titled ‘Can 600 People Say No to Hate and Yes to Love?’ — which became a petition that people signed and wrote comments on,” Neda Eid said. “It was printed on a piece of paper and given to the Imam and the MSA.”
Neda Eid described the comments on the petition as reactions of hurt and outrage at the act of vandalism and expressions of support for the MSA.
She said that the MSA is actually planning a larger reaction to the incident after press coverage of the incident has opened students’ eyes to a greater issue. From the press response and online remarks about the incident, the MSA noticed instances of insensitivity and racism that the campus is usually sheltered from.
“We are in this university bubble where there is tolerance and respect on certain levels,” Neda Eid said. “But when we leave, how is this preparing us to interact with people who aren’t as open and tolerant? So we thought, ‘How do we prepare ourselves for the real world, and how can we make this [reaction to the incident] into something worthwhile?'”
She indicated that the MSA is still brainstorming ideas for an event during the next academic year to address these prevalent issues.
Neda Eid emphasized that although news headlines about the incident are fading from public view, the underlying need for respect and tolerance should remain a topic of discussion and awareness.
“We want to hold a mass campus event,” Neda Eid said. “We’d like to get other clubs involved and bring together other universities on this issue.”