Muslim students want classmate expelled for criticizing hijabs
Kathy Zhu, a freshman student at the University of Central Florida (UCF), recently faced a Twitter campaign calling for her expulsion after she critically questioned a "try on a hijab" event on campus.
On February 1, Zhu was walking across campus when she noticed the Muslim Student Association (MSA) promoting World Hijab Day, an annual event held by Muslims across the globe to “foster religious tolerance and understanding by inviting women to experience the hijab for one day.”
"They are trying to get me expelled for no reason. If that isn’t an example of fascism, I don’t know what is."
In a video posted on Zhu’s twitter account, Zhu explains that the MSA had organized a booth with a banner that stated “Try on a hijab,” along with signs that stated “My hijab empowers me,” and “My hijab is a symbol of understanding.”
“I was walking to class today and I noticed this booth, and it was, I think, hosted by the Muslim Student Association,” Zhu recounted.
“The booth had a banner, and the banner said ‘try on a hijab, and we’ll give you one for free,’” she elaborated. “So I took the pictures. I posted it on Twitter, and I explained my concerns and my views about what’s wrong with this booth in general.”
“There’s a ‘try a hijab on’ booth at my college campus,” the tweet begins. “So you’re telling me that it’s now just a fashion accessory and not a religious thing? Or are you just trying to get women used to being oppressed under Islam?”
Several hours later, Rayyan Sukkarieh, a member of the MSA, responded to Zhu on Twitter, saying she offered Zhu a chance to try on a hijab but that Zhu said “no thank you.” She then criticized Zhu for failing to take the time to “ask questions” or “understand what hijab is,” calling Zhu’s behavior “ignorant.”
Sukkarieh’s response attracted wide notice, garnering more than 19,000 likes.
In a series of follow up tweets, Sukkarieh then called upon her Twitter followers to email UCF and demand that Zhu be expelled to demonstrate that “ignorance will not be tolerated on my campus.”
Sukkarieh subsequently elaborated that Zhu should be expelled because “she is putting Muslim students, especially those wearing hijab, in danger,” adding that Zhu is “illiciting [sic] violence and is a danger to those on campus that are easily identifiable as Muslim.”
Sukkarieh’s call for Zhu’s expulsion apparently generated the intended response, prompting UCF to release a statement saying that despite receiving a significant number of complaints, neither Zhu nor Sukkarieh will be subjected to disciplinary action.
“The University of Central Florida has received a number of emailed complaints suggesting that disciplinary action be taken against students involved in a disagreement being played out via social media,” the school said. “Upon review, neither student’s actions as reported to the university violate our Rules of Conduct.”
Zhu defended her photographs of the MSA booth, pointing out that UCF is a public campus accusing her antagonists of resorting to “fascist” tactics in its campaign to get her expelled.
“I just posted my beliefs and used my First Amendment rights to talk about them. It was my [Twitter] page, my social media. I did nothing harmful towards them in person. I didn’t even say anything to them in person, except when they told me to put on a hijab and I said no thank you and walked away,” she explained. “They are trying to get me expelled for no reason. If that isn’t an example of fascism, I don’t know what is.”
Zhu told Campus Reform that the UCF administration did not personally contact her, and she only learned of their position after the university’s statement was released on Twitter, even though she had received threats and felt she was in physical danger after Sukkarieh’s call for her expulsion.
“I was very cautious today when walking around campus,” she noted.
Campus Reform also reached out to UCF, the MSA, and Sukkarieh for comment, but none have provided a response.
The MSA did, however, release a statement on its Facebook page addressing the controversy, saying the purpose of its event was to “spread awareness of the hijab,” and that “nobody was forced or pressured to approach the table, all participation was completely optional.”
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