CHAPEL HILL, NC – Facing rising anti-Islam attacks, Muslim students in North Carolina have launched a new app to document Islamophobia on campus and offer support to their colleagues.
“It’s important to understand the context in which they have to make themselves vulnerable in reporting these things, and that’s why I really think Project Mawla is necessary,” Hamza Butler, a former vice president of UNC Chapel Hill’s Muslim Student Association, told The Nation on October 11.
“It creates that space in which you’re going to your Muslim community and not the police or other state institutions.”
Documenting incidents, the app helps educate locals about the prevalence of Islamophobia in their Chapel Hill community.
The idea was suggested after Chapel Hill shooting in February 2015, when Deah Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, were killed by their 44-year-old neighbor.
“After the shooting, I remember going on YikYak, and the hate speech was just blowing my mind,” said Ayesha Faisal, current president of the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill’s Muslim Student Association.
“It was hours after the shooting. Out of nowhere there were people saying…‘It was justified because Muslims are terrorists.’”
The shooting was not the only incident in the community.
UNC Chapel Hill alumna Aisha Anwar was walking to her bus stop when she was startled by a car’s honk from across the street. Turning to face the noise, she locked eyes with a man behind the wheel of a car outfitted with a Trump/Pence bumper sticker.
“It seemed like an innocent mistake. He didn’t look angry or yell anything,” she said, so she kept walking. But once at the bus stop, she heard honking again. The same car sped past her. “As far as harassment goes, this is fairly tame,” Anwar said.
“But I was very shaken not only to have been caught off guard twice…but to realize that he had followed me on my way to the bus—a path I took every day,” she said.
“There was no knowing if he would come back a third time, or if I would run into him again some other day.”
The app is currently run by UNC Chapel Hill’s Muslim Student Association, one of the largest student groups on campus with over 300 members.
“Hate doesn’t just come out of nowhere,” said Fatema Ahmad, a member of the North Carolina–based advocacy group Muslims for Social Justice and a 2009 Duke University graduate.
“Individual racist action does not just naturally happen without a system of cultural and institutional racism that surrounds people and allows someone to feel emboldened enough to commit a brutal murder like that.”
Project Mawla also allows people to document disturbing incidents that don’t necessarily meet the definition of crimes.
“No experience of mistreatment is ‘too small.’ No narrative of suffering, unweighted,” reads the website’s homepage.
Though the app has yet to take off, it has received support from people across North Carolina’s Research Triangle and appears on UNC MSA’s website as a resource for Muslim students.
“I would definitely use it in the future and encourage others to use it as well,” Anwar said.
“I think it’s important in that [Project Mawla] has the potential to play a role in shaping community-based responses to violence targeted at Muslims and those profiled as such.
“It’s definitely our responsibility, not only to ourselves but also to other people of color and other underrepresented groups, to speak up,” said Faisal.