In response to recent attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS) and its affiliates in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere, the Bowdoin Muslim Students Association (MSA) organized a panel discussion of students and professors to address the question, “How Islamic is the Islamic State?”

The event on Monday evening offered Muslim students an opportunity to renounce the actions of the ISIS and emphasize the distinction between their Islamic views and those of ISIS, while also offering an academic explanation of ISIS’s actions and ascendance.

Students walked away with a decisive response: that ISIS is a political movement that uses a perverted version of Islam to justify many of its actions.

The conversation takes place amid a broader conversation about the role of ideology in the Islamic State’s actions. Concerns about Islamophobia have surfaced in reaction to the attacks in Paris and Beirut.

A well known example of this discussion is a March 2015 cover story in The Atlantic titled “What ISIS Really Wants.” The panel members discussed and criticized elements of the story. 

In a question, audience member Emmett Ulian ’19 referred to the piece directly, explaining it argues ISIS’s ideology “derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.” Professor of Religion and Qur'anic scholar, Robert Morrison said that the story’s author, Graeme Wood, is completely off base and that generally, the response among the academic community to the piece has been overwhelmingly negative.

Assistant Professor of Government Barbara Elias, a scholar of Insurgencies and Middle Eastern politics offered a political explanation, saying that that ISIS’s rise is a direct result of American actions in the Middle East, specifically the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Many students felt the most valuable aspect of the event was the opportunity to hear Muslim and Middle Eastern students offer a personal take on an urgent issue.

“Mariama and Irfan gave a whole new perspective and when there's a personal touch to it, it really quantifies the issue,” said Liam Nicoll ’18.

In her closing remarks Lilian Gharios ’18, a panel member from Jordan who is not Muslim, said “If we begin to think that all Muslims are terrorists because of the actions of this one group, we are letting them win.”

MSA spokesman Irfan Alam ’18 explained that he believes ISIS’s claim to have established a caliphate is illegitimate because the group is not doing what the Qur’an says a caliphate is supposed to do.

When asked about instances of prejudice against muslim students at Bowdoin, both Muslim student panelists, Alam and MSA president Mariama Sowe ’18, said that though they are weary, they had not experienced any instances of explicit prejudice at Bowdoin.

The event, held in Macmillan House, was well attended and was the final event in Bowdoin Student Government’s No Hate November Initiative.