A Duke University professor told a crowd Monday that the increased tension surrounding Muslims in America today is "deeply personal."
Omid Safi, an Islamic studies professor at Duke, presented "Being Muslim in America: America, Muslims and the Middle East in a World of Conflict" at Wofford College. The discussion examined how the political and cultural environment surrounding Muslims in America now isn't too unlike events from America's past.
"My hope and my prayer is that we leave this time together kinder and more deeply aware of how we are all connected to each other," he said. "The truth of the matter is I stand before you as someone who is deeply worried about the fate of our American democratic experiment. I don't pretend that my community, the Muslim community, in any way, shape or form, has a monopoly on suffering."
Safi discussed issues faced by the poor, African-Americans, LGBTQ people and "anyone who finds themselves weak or vulnerable."
David and Dee Bolinger of Boiling Springs said they agreed with much of what Safi had to say. Dee Bolinger said she hopes events like the one at Wofford help dispel negative stereotypes many people have about those who are different.
"At least you would hope so," she said.
Safi said the current climate surrounding Muslims in America, much of it caused by the rhetoric of Donald Trump — first as a candidate and now as president — is frightening but not entirely new.
He said his 9-year-old daughter is scared that she won't be able to play with the blonde, Mormon girl who lives across the street from her because the "president wants to keep Muslims out."
"This is deeply personal. It's personal on many different levels," he said. "She doesn't know what it means to be a Muslim, but she is one. She doesn't even know what it means to live in America."
Trump's proposed travel ban that would prevent people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States is a way to ban Muslims, regardless of whether the president wants to admit it, Saif said.
"This is a Muslim ban. You know how we know it's a Muslim ban? Because he told us it's going to be a Muslim ban multiple times during the campaign," Saif said.
Saif said it is un-American and un-religious to turn a blind eye to Syrian refugees fleeing the Islamic State and a genocidal government.
"These are not terrorists, no, no, they are the victims of terrorists. To treat them like terrorists is to re-victimize them," he said. "You are more likely to die by having your furniture fall on you than to have a Syrian refugee kill you. You are more likely to die by rolling off of your bed than a Syrian refugee killing you."
People of all religions, if they take their respective scripture seriously, should welcome refugees, understand their plight and do what they can to help them, Saif said.
"It is religiously what we are called to do," he said. "The Torah, the Qu'ran and the New Testament all command us to accept the stranger."
Safi said he hoped everyone in attendance Monday realized that every major religion in the world has been used both for good and for evil. He said it will take tremendous unity to make the world a truly better place.
"My hope is that when you leave here, there is that commitment to stand up, to rise up and to insist that better is possible," he said. "Unless we serve all of us, including those who are weak and vulnerable, we're not doing our job."
Zainab Bhagat, a Wofford freshman who is a Muslim-American, said she was happy to see someone take a stand for making a world a better place.
That begins with first and foremost recognizing everyone as equal because everyone is human, she said.
"Before we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, whatever... We are people," Bhagat said.