Interview by Viktorsha Uliyanova, MFA in Photography Candidate with Jahed Miah, Biology/Biochemistry Major, Co-President of Muslim Student Association
What is your name and pronouns?
My name is Jahed Miah and my pronouns are he/him/his.
What is your age and major?
I am 23 and I am double majoring in biology and biochemistry. I’m graduating this semester. It’s definitely a bitter sweet moment. I’m excited to take on everything I have learned and apply it to the next chapter in my life. I have a lot of memories and connections with the people I have met on campus and the professors I have worked with.
Where are you from?
My family is from Bangladesh. I’m the only one out of my family to be born in the United States. I was born in Astoria but my family moved to Hudson when I was two years old.
What types of hobbies or activities are you interested in?
I can definitely say that activities related to the outdoors and nature is what interests me. To name a few, being active, hiking and playing sports, fishing. I have recently bought a bow and arrow and have been training with it. Also, I have been exploring instant photography and using it as a creative outlet. It’s been interesting to experiment with a polaroid camera and show the results to my nieces and nephews. Most recently I have been focused on reading, specifically on topics of Islamic philosophy and Sufism. Revival of the Religious Sciences by Imam Al-Ghazali is a book that I’ve read six times and it has changed my life.
I used to be in a fraternity. Before When I was in high school, I never partied. When I got to college, I joined a fraternity. After two years I realized that I was destroying myself. Being in a fraternity involved a lot of Haram. I grew up religious and when I was younger religion felt more like a chore, something that my parents nagged me to do. The fraternity went against my upbringing values and I didn’t like the person I was becoming, it didn’t match to my path in life on an emotional, spiritual and physical level. I decided to leave and start reflecting on who I really am at the core and what values do I hold important. I have friends that left Islam. So it was very crucial for me to ask myself if Islam was something that I really believe in or is something that I grew up with. From leaving, I began a journey of understanding of what Islam is, our Prophets and the message that is being spread.
Has SUNY New Paltz campus made you feel welcome as a member of the Muslim community?
I wouldn’t say that the campus has gone out of its way to make me feel welcome. At the same time, it hasn’t done anything to make me feel unwelcome. When I made a conscious decision to eat only Halal, I found that my options were extremely limited. Sushi and vegetable pasta we’re the only two things made available. I subsisted off those options until I moved off campus.
For a long time, there wasn’t a a dedicated prayer space for our community on campus. As an alternate solution, my friends and I would use the library as resource to find an open space which we could use for prayer.This has been proven challenging. One change that I have noticed here is the creation of the meditation room on the 4th floor of the Student Union Building. The space is shared and doubles as a prayer space for the Muslim community. However, to me, this seems more like an afterthought rather than a push for change and consideration of others. The meditation room is located right next door to a dance studio. The other night we were praying while a dance class was in session. As you can imagine, we were praying while loud music was vibrating through the walls. It doesn’t feel like a dedicated space.
How does the community at New Paltz differ from your home?
If we’re just talking about the composition of the student body it is very diverse from where I come from. In Hudson, the Muslim population is mostly Bengali. Here on campus the population is a lot more younger and come from different backgrounds. Back home, the youth often feels alienated and disenfranchised from the Mosque. It feels more united here.
What personal journey brought you to your current role?
The intention to be sincere and genuine with myself and most importantly to God.
What issues or challenges are you confronted with?
Some of the challenges is choosing the delayed gratification. Choosing to be selective of the things on campus that would not be detrimental to my identity and values. For me personally, I think it’s hard to forgive yourself and to heal and grow from your mistakes.
What are your most important sources of success and change?
Whatever changes I went through as a person wouldn’t be possible if God didn’t will it and helped my journey. The prayers of my family, my ancestors and friends all contribute to the place where I am today.
What are changes that you would like to see and be part of?
In order to see change we would need to speak with the administration and the faculty. Unfortunately, I’m very skeptical about thinking that they would care about us. We are a minority on campus. This isn’t a religious school but quite a liberal school. There are a lot of values present here that go against Islam philosophy so it’s difficult to think that our issues would be important to them.
Who else needs to be pulled into the conversation?
I think it’s important to note that my answers have been from a male perspective. I can’t speak about what how our sisters feel on campus, ,how wearing the hijab affects them differently than the brothers. The Muslim women’s voices and reality need to be told and understood.Additionally, pulling in folks who have a completely different perspective on Islam is crucial. This way, people could really get to know our community, lifestyle and purpose on a bigger scale. I think it is important to engage with non-MSA members and show true values of Islam. That could drive progress. Through engagement and education, we can open up people’s minds about Islam and erase the negative connotations and stereotypes that are portrayed in the media.
Interview by Viktorsha Uliyanova, MFA in Photography Candidate as part of a collaborative Interview Book Project in ARS 331 Photo Books and Installations.