Photo courtesy of Dalia Mogahed

Cal Poly’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) hosted Muslim-American scholar Dalia Mogahed to raise awareness about Islam and address misconceptions about the religion.

Nearly 650 San Luis Obispo community members and Cal Poly students packed Chumash Auditorium Saturday afternoon to hear the adviser to former U.S. President Barack Obama share her research on Muslims.

“I think Dalia’s presence was the first step in transforming the community and campus to support Muslims and vulnerable students,” MSA adviser Stephen Lloyd-Moffett said.

The university covered $3,000 of the $5,000 cost for her presentation, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune. Additionally, every college dean across Cal Poly’s six colleges provided money to her talk. Lloyd-Moffet said that each dean’s contributions showed how much support is behind Muslim students.

The two-hour presentation was split into two parts: Mogahed’s own background and her research with Gallup, which she features in a co-authored book, “Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think.” The presentation concluded with a Q & A moderated by Lloyd-Moffett.

In her presentation, Mogahed referenced many statistics drawn from her research, which is the most comprehensive study of Muslims ever conducted. Several audience members were pleased that Mogahed drew her arguments from real data and concepts people not familiar with Islam would understand.

“It’s defining the religion outside of the religion,” general engineering junior Abdullah Sulaiman said.

At the beginning of her talk, Mogahed referenced her experiences post 9/11, including the first time she felt she had to hide her true identity.

“For the first time in my life, I was afraid for someone to know I was Muslim,” she said.

While Mogahed said she’s thankful to be a Muslim in America, she said that U.S. media and political elections significantly hamper the perception of Muslim Americans. In fact, she noted that the largest spikes of Islamophobia occur not after a terrorist attack, but during election seasons, particularly in 2008 and 2012.

Mogahed also placed an emphasis on why wearing a hijab is not oppressive, referencing her own experience.

I felt at 17 it was my feminist declaration of independence from what I felt was an oppressive standard of beauty that we were being held to,” she said.

In addition to pinpointing some of the misconceptions about Islam, Mogahed’s presentation allowed others in the San Luis Obispo community to feel more comfortable with their religious identity.

“I just moved here, so I was skeptical about how I was going to fit in,” San Luis Obispo resident Banan Abuhilal said. “[The presentation] gave me a reason to be comfortable and I will be more welcome here than I thought.”

Mogahed concluded her speech by stating that people who want to show support to their Muslim neighbors can call out media bias on Facebook and share their knowledge of Islam with their friends.

Moving forward, Lloyd-Moffett said he would like to see more events and speakers like Mogahed hosted on campus to facilitate a more proactive approach, as opposed to a reactive one, in addressing diversity and inclusion on campus.

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