Launch into Leadership

The Grassroot: Fighting the law, indifference and much more

Asma Elhuni, a recent MLK Humanitarian Award nominee, and who recently stood with others in protest of racial profiling, poses for a powerful picture. Photo Illustration by Dayne Francis | The Signal

Last updated Feb. 21 at 11:23 for spelling correction of Asma Elhuni. 

Asma Elhuni had no idea what the MLK Humanitarian Award was until she checked her email inbox with the nomination. The political science major has since made it a goal and a mission to not take the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lightly.

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Pictured here is Asma Elhuni. Photo by Dayne Francis | The Signal

For the year of 2016, Asma Elhuni was crowned a humanitarian in the eyes of Georgia State in accordance with the principles Dr. King spoke and died for.

Once a year, Georgia State’s Multicultural Center holds the 33rd Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration. Here, the life and legacy of Dr. King is remembered and reimagined. Two awards are given, the Humanitarian Award and the Community Service award.

With that humanitarian title, Asma finds responsibility and a pressure.

“I am under pressure to Honor Dr. King’s legacy of promoting equality and justice which also includes economic justice,” Elhuni said.

By being considered a humanitarian, Elhuni has made it her mission to feel adequate of being uttered in the same sentence as the renowned champion of civil rights.

“I actually did not know anything about it until I was nominated by my wonderful teacher,” Elhuni said.

Dr. Peter Cava, professor of Gender Studies, nominated the 38-year-old when they witnessed the lengths Elhuni went to.

Elhuni was anointed the humanitarian due to, “trying to promote inclusion and understanding of Muslims and for supporting causes for all minorities,” Elhuni said.

That became clear when Elhuni approached  Mayor Johnny Crist  of Lilburn, Georgia, in August of 2015 and discussed the police force. Reaching out allowed Elhuni to be put in the position of training the officers.

“He allowed me to come in and train all his officers on cultural sensitivity training,” Elhuni said. “So you know when you meet a muslim and she’s covered what that means and different practices that muslims do so that they’re more sensitive when they meet muslims.”

Elhuni originally requested the help of the Islamic Speakers Bureau to do the training, but Crist preferred that town citizens Elhuni and others who brought up the issue be the ones who do it. So, the Bureau trained them to do it themselves.

Elhuni also has protested alongside the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and the presence of the confederate flag at Stone Mountain.

“I was invited to Emory, the Theology Center, to speak on a panel for Islam and Islamophobia,” Elhuni said. “I’ve spoke at Georgia State with the Muslim Student Alliance on themes like Islamic feminism.”

While only being in her second semester at Georgia State, Elhuni has found specific causes that rally her as well as other activists on Georgia State campus. She stands behind groups such as ATL Raise UP, the collective of workers who are in the global movement for raising the minimum wage and the right to unionize without retaliation, and Islamic Speaker Bureau, which works to collaborate the Islam faith with community and inclusion. She is also an identifying Islamic feminist, minoring in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Elhuni is in the works helping out with a fundraiser for the town of Flint, Michigan. Georgia State has been contacted and student body organizations have been tapped in, and an email will be being sent asking for interested parties to help.

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In Recent News

Reported both by The Signal and other Atlanta publications, eight students were arrested after hosting a sit-in inside the Georgia State’s Honors College in protest of the state’s prohibition on undocumented students being allowed to attend the top five universities, where Georgia State qualifies.

In response to the arrest, Elhuni and various others bombarded the safety forum hosted by President Mark Becker to address students’ safety concerns about the recent stream of robberies in the library.

The night before the safety forum, Elhuni, members of Freedom University and other activists congregated to plan a demonstration. That morning, as the safety panel opened the floor for questions, Elhuni and company stood and demanded the room’s attention for answers regarding the arrest, the barring of the undocumented and concerns regarding racial profiling by the university police.

Due to the fact that the safety forum was not in reaction to those controversies, the topics originally planned were sheltered and the forum ended early.

When asked if the interruption was more distracting than impactful, Elhuni disagrees. In her description of Georgia State’s fouls, the university hasn’t properly addressed issues of race and gentrification in recent news of Georgia State expanding into Turner Field’s soon to be abandoned territory.

“The forum was on security. Where is the security of brown and black students who have been racially profiled? The security of undocumented students, many of which have been here most of their lives and contribute taxes to help pay for a school that keeps them out?” Elhuni said. “Where is the security of those who keep being moved from one place to another because Georgia State buys land and offers no solutions to the displaced populations?”

The goal of the recent rally was to have a direct one on one with Becker.

“We wanted the President to address the arrests of the eight people, racial profiling and the gentrification Georgia State partakes in without offering solutions,” Elhuni said. “We would love to sit and meet with the President so that he can address these issues that he continuously ignores.”

Elhani in collaboration with other groups and activists are in plans to discuss the issue with the university.

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Asma and friends pictured at a protest holding a Black Lives Matter sign. Photo Submitted by Asma Elhuni

“One of the things that I think is important is that those people we are fighting for, we shouldn’t drown out their voices,” Elhani said. “They need to be in the forefront and we are their allies.”

Using this type of privilege can be used as a tool rather than a shameful position to find yourself.

“A lot of time, privilege is looked as a bad thing, but it’s not,” Elhani said. “Privilege can be used for good, used on behalf of those who don’t have it.”

Since then, Georgia State has announced that they have approved the notion of undocumented students attending the university, making them the only one so far in the top five universities.

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Drive found in Faith

When not in a desk or pumped up on an injustice, Elhani babysits and commutes from Lilburn, Georgia. She is a part of a running club and pens her own byline at atlantamuslim.com where she has written about her comlicated relationship with her religion.

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Asma Elhuni poses with a poster representing the 100 day challenge. Her and others cIollected food and clothes for 100 days to help those who are struggling. Photo Submitted by Asma Elhuni

It was Islam itself that fueled and fuels Elhani to put herself behind causes, with her favorite line from the Quran in Verse 135 of Surah Al Nisa, “O you who believe stand out firmly for justice.”

She was married in the past and after divorcing, remarrying and attending school, Elhani finds empowerment in her new role she has selected for herself.

“I feel like I have a new beginning,” Elhani said. “I can do what I want now and it’s one of the reasons I’m a feminist. I am now able to go out and do what it is that I feel like I need to do in the world.”

The feminist critiques of organized religion and Islam is something Elhani is aware of and active in having a dialogue about. She remains critical of institutional religion, which she notes is manmade.

“Faith gets left out of the narrative. Faith gets a bad rap and for good reason,” Elhani said. “The people that use faith to do bad are put in the spotlight. A lot of times, faith causes people to do good.”

Within Islam specifically, she juggles resisting Islamophobia and also looking into her own community.

“I’m always battling within it. I don’t agree with some things the Islamic community does,” Elhani said. “It’s important to call out our own community and say, ‘this is what we do wrong’.”

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No One Special

Activism that is awareness based such as protests has been viewed as essentially shouting into the void, with no concrete results. Elhani disagrees wholeheartedly.

Asma Elhuni, a recent MLK Humanitarian Award nominee, and who recently stood with others in protest of racial profiling, poses for a powerful picture. Photo Illustration by Dayne Francis | The Signal
Asma Elhuni, a recent MLK Humanitarian Award nominee, and who recently stood with others in protest of racial profiling, poses for a powerful picture.
Photo Illustration by Dayne Francis | The Signal

“History has proven so, from the results of protests in the civil rights era to the protests against police brutality towards the black population that has resulted in police body cams,” Elhani said. “It’s a waste of life if our focus is to just be making money and eating, there is such a greater purpose.”

Instead of having people in power or people as leaders, activism and social change is the one place where none of that matters. Simply caring and willing to fight are the qualifiers.

“You see something you don’t like? Get up and say, ‘what can i do?’ and go out and do it,” Elhani said. “I am nobody special. Anyone can do this I’m not anyone influential and i am not anyone powerful. I’m just a normal nobody.”

*Editor’s note: Asma Elhuni’s name was misspelled in the 2/16 print issue.

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