As dozens of Muslims shed their shoes and entered the Islamic Society of Southeast Idaho’s mosque on South Fifth Avenue, its secretary and president were anxious to talk about some problems Muslims are facing as they attend school and make a life here.
President Ahmed Abuaghith and secretary Nezar Alnejidi both said Muslims are having some issues with a small group of people in Pocatello.
“We’re trying very hard to resolve issues,” Alnejidi said.
One of the largest issues is finding housing for all the Idaho State University students from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Alnejidi said some landlords of rental properties in the Gate City want triple the amount of normal security deposits from Muslim students, and two months of rent paid in advance.
“That is not fair,” he said.
Alnejidi said because all the students from Saudi Arabia are being sponsored by their government to attend ISU, there are systems in place to secure reimbursements if a tenant does damage to a rental property.
“We (Muslims) as a community here will do what we can to help,” Alnejidi said.
Other issues Alnejidi said Muslim students grapple with include local residents staring at them and at least one incident where a pair of Muslim women were verbally assaulted at a local grocery store.
“Someone called them terrorists and it frightened them,” Alnejidi said.
Alnejidi, who is in Pocatello with his family, said he has noticed the stares that come from some local residents. He said people in Saudi Arabia do not stare at people who are Westerners.
“I don’t feel comfortable if I feel I’m being watched,” he said.
In another incident, a Saudi student had a message stuck under his windshield wiper that said, “Go back to your camel country,” according to Alnejidi.
Alnejidi said the isolated incidents are unfortunate because most of the community has been supportive and kind to foreign students from the Middle East.
“The number of students from the Middle East is a testament to the kindness of Pocatello,” Alnejidi said. “And it will pay future dividends.”
Alnejidi said the experiences that students from Kuwait or Saudi Arabia have at ISU and in Pocatello are things they will remember for the rest of their lives, and positive experiences will prompt these graduates to send their own children to the university here.
“I came here to learn, which shows you how much I respect you,” Alnejidi said about coming to the U.S.
He said if people have questions or issues with Islam, they should contact the Islamic Society of Southeast Idaho.
“My message is love and peace,” Alnejidi said.