Tahmid Shantanu is a senior sociology major at Arkansas Tech who hails from Bangladesh in Southeast Asia. He is involved in many aspects on campus, including International Student Organization (of which he is a founder) and the Department of Diversity and Inclusion.
He believes that the Department of Diversity and Inclusion provides a great opportunity for students to learn about other cultures.
“I have on multiple occasions talked about Islam to the Diversity and Inclusion department, and it’s been a very healthy conversation. And I think college is the place where you need to get out of that bubble and to have that conversation because if you’re from small-town Arkansas, chances are you probably have not met a guy from Bangladesh who’s Muslim,” he said.
When he first came to the U.S., Tahmid knew that being a Muslim, and from a different country, would present challenges, but he is proud of his faith and he doesn’t want to hide it.
“I think a lot of times students tend to have this fear, like let’s not discuss it because religion is scary. I actually took the opposite route, and I went ahead and told people,” he said.
Being so open about his life and his beliefs lead people to ask him questions, which in turn prompted him to become more informed about the different facets of his religion.
“I had to read up more on my religion than I did back home,” he said. “So I think in a way it was a good experience for me, because I actually had never asked those questions to myself.”
However, he was wary of the consequences that could come from being so open about his beliefs. While he has received backlash from people in the U.S., he has had a mostly positive experiences that have allowed him to inform people in the community and defy stereotypes.
Despite the positivity, Tahmid prefers not to pray on campus by himself because he doesn’t want people to be afraid, to get the idea that he is different or to accuse him of speaking the devil’s tongue. He likes to pray in his room, or he goes to the Islamic Center in Russellville, where there are people from about 27 different countries who practice Islam at the center.
Tahmid admits, though, that he has felt the pressure of President Trump’s recent travel ban (placed on six predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen), and that everyone else should feel the pressure too.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about Islam or Christianity or religion—it’s about people. These are people that are escaping through violence. These are not your average Joe, like, just wanting to come to the United States to have fun. These are people that just want to live,” he said.
He also felt like there was more violent language being used, targeting all minorities, not just Muslims. According to Tahmid, the Russellville Islamic center has received four threats recently, and they have had to put up a fence around their property because people have been trying to vandalize it.
“Sometimes there are children that are playing there too. So the Islamic Center is not necessarily a mosque. It’s a place for people to take their kids…we have games. Anyone can bring their kids and it doesn’t have to be Muslim,” he said.
The safety concerns are so drastic that the FBI had to speak to the leaders at the Center to warn those who frequent the Center that they need to be prepared for any attack.
While Tahmid is not from a country included in the president’s executive order, he does know of families being kept apart because of it. He even shared a story about a Muslim woman who cannot visit her husband being treated for cancer in the U.S.
He also explained that there are underlying travel warnings being placed while the travel ban is in action. Because of these warnings, Tahmid’s family will not be able to attend his graduation.
“A travel warning is essentially saying, ‘We’re not telling that you guys are bad, but we’re telling that you guys might be bad.’ And it’s also a warning for people in the United States. So, like, you guys cannot go to those countries either,” he explained.
Right now the travel warnings extend to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and certain parts of India. Even though Tahmid has a valid visa, if he were to leave the country right now, there is no guarantee he’d be allowed to return.
Since Tahmid has been in the U.S. he has gone back to Bangladesh twice, and it has been about eight months since he last went home. Now, with the travel ban and warnings, Tahmid feels he cannot go home anytime soon.
“It’s not your parents telling you, like, don’t go home. It’s like, don’t. You cannot. There’s one thing I can’t go home on my own and then there’s external pressure of not being able to do what I want to do,” he said.
Tahmid emphasizes the importance of simply communicating with people—everyone—and making connections, learning from them.
“We’re in 2017. The world is changing and our demographics are going to change. Staying in 1900s and 1800s is not going to help you, so pick up a book, start reading, and ask questions. International students love answering questions,” he said.