Muslim student responds to anti-Islamic activists


American River College student Burak Kocal holds a sign encouraging people to hug him. Kocal, a practicing Muslim, was protesting against the negative images widely associated with people of his faith. (Photo by Mychael Jones)

Mychael Jones

By Mychael Jones and John Ferrannini

An American River College student held a silent protest outside the Student Center on Nov. 24 in response to an anti-Muslim protest that took place one week earlier in the same location.

Burak Kocal, the student who was protesting, said that the anti-Muslim activists who erected a sign that read “Why Islam Kills” frightened him.

“I remember after Tuesday I was properly scared to be in America,” said Kocal. “On Thursday, I felt I had to do something.”

Kocal stood outside with a blindfold wrapped around his head while holding up a sign that asked passers-by to hug him if they agreed that Muslims should be treated with respect.

On Nov. 17, activists erected a sign that read “Why Islam Kills,” provoking an intense religious debate with students.

Coming on the heels of the Islamic State’s attack in Paris that left 129 people dead and hundreds injured on Nov. 13, the activists — who identified themselves as Christians but refused to identify with any organized group — said that they wanted to “engage people.”

Keith Humphrey, one of the activists, said that he was surprised at the number of Muslims who attend ARC.

“We’re encountering actual Arabic Muslims. I didn’t expect to go head-to-head with them. There must be hundreds of them on this campus,” said Humphrey. “The main purpose of making a controversial statement is to engage people. You have to make something controversial to get their attention. … If we don’t have an in —  a controversial statement — we’re not talking to anyone.”

The activists were met with opposition from both Muslim and non-Muslim students, who said that the message that “Islam kills” is both offensive and wrong.

“Only 0.2 percent of the so-called ‘Muslims’ are killing anybody,” said Muslim ARC student Awais Khan. “It’s against our religion, which says that if you kill one person, you kill the whole human race.”

Former ARC student Hamzah Ahmad, who is also a Muslim, said that the anti-Muslim activists had a false understanding of his religion.

“I can be out here all day saying ‘I’m Muslim, I’m Muslim’ but if I’m not following the right path, I’m not following the religion of peace, then I’m not a Muslim no matter how much I say,” said Ahmad. “Do you know what the word Islam means? It means peace. It’s the religion of peace, brother.”

For his part, an activist that can only be identified as Dick (he did not give his name, and Humphrey declined to give his last name) said that Islam as a whole is a “religion doing horrible things.”

“Our sign is truthful,” Dick said. “The history of Islam has always been one of violence.”

Los Rios police and Student Life Supervisor Juan Miguel Blanco went out to the booth to see what was going on.

“There is a fine line between hate speech and free speech,” said Blanco.

Jordan Schauberger and Kameron Schmid contributed to this report.