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Gambian Muslim students In Nebraska unite to practice their faith
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Gambian Muslim students In Nebraska unite to practice their faith

Western Nebraska Community College has a growing Muslim student population. They’ve come to study and create a better life while being good stewards for their faith. Western Nebraska is predominantly Christian and has had little exposure to Islam, yet the campus and community has embraced the opportunity to learn from its new residents. 

Colin Croft, social science instructor at WNCC, said the consensus on campus is, “WNCC students are not judgmental and it doesn’t bother them that there are Muslim students at the college.” 

In the classroom, when there is time for discussion, Croft said he has had to dispel the myths that, “Muslims are all terrorists, which is ridiculous, but a lot of people have only been exposed to negative information. The apprehension and misconceptions about Muslims comes mostly from a lack of information.” 

Most of the Muslim students at WNCC belong to the Muslim Student Association and come from Gambia, a small country in West Africa of 1.7 million people. 

Though the country is 90 percent Muslim, Article 25 of the Gambian Constitution protects the right of all its citizens to practice whatever religion they choose. It is known as the smiling coast. 

Many foreign students encounter some culture shock, but Gambians have a slight edge because they learn about American history and its political systems in school. That transition has been made easier because WNCC and the Scottsbluff community have been welcoming to all its foreign students. 

Seedy Sarr, president of the MSA said, “It’s been a wonderful experience being in Scottsbluff and Nebraska. People like talking to you and are friendly.” 

It took Sarr some time to settle down and adjust to a different lifestyle, provide his own food and housing and means of transportation. Random people would see him, or other Muslim students, walking in the snow and give them rides. 

“They would ask me ‘what are you doing walking in the snow’ and ‘where are you from?’” For Sarr, it was an opportunity to meet new people. 

Sarr said he has not experienced any discrimination or hatred directly, just misconceptions. 

On the topic of Islam, he said, “the media portrays the bad side of it, but we believe in the Golden Rule and you should do unto others as they do unto you. It doesn’t matter what you believe or what you wear. All that matters is if you’re good or evil.” 

The biggest obstacle Sarr had to overcome was the world’s perception of Islam once he left Gambia. 

“I didn’t realize the intensity of others disliking Islam until after leaving home,” he said. “It made you feel guilty when you didn’t do anything wrong.” 

William Spurgeon, information technology instructor at WNCC, noted, “many of these students went to a Catholic school due to the presence of Catholic missionaries.” They had Christian mentors in Gambia and mentors of all kinds in Scottsbluff. 

Sarr chose WNCC because a former student said it was nice. 

“The school was helpful and responded quickly to my questions and emails so I saw the place on a map and said, ‘yep that’s the place.’” 

Sarr went on to say that he hopes more students from Gambia will come to Scottsbluff. “People back home make follow-ups on you. They follow me when I play soccer and follow what’s going on in Scottsbluff. They are interested in our new homes and what it is like.” Sarr’s impression of Scottsbluff is so positive that he said he hopes one day, “the people in Gambia can think of Scottsbluff as home and the people of Scottsbluff will think of Gambia as home.” 

Sarr noted that they are, “loyal to Scottsbluff because it contributed to who we are and who we are to become. The community doesn’t realize how much they have helped us excel by being so welcoming and helpful. They are accepting of our values and they have a peaceful environment so we can share with them.” 

Sarr is thankful for all the opportunities he has been given. “I have a feeling that I want to do more with my education and build a solid foundation so that I can help my people.” 

Sarr related, “If we don’t read all of a book, we think someone in Gambia can read it. If someone can use a computer, we try to find a way to send it. I don’t know who will receive anything I send, but the collective success of your people is that if you have it, share it.” 

Sarr is affable and always willing to answer questions about Islam and Gambia. “The three questions I get asked the most are about war, lions and poverty,” he says. “There is so much more.” 

The Muslim Student Association is active in the community. They began about two years ago on the WNCC campus. They focus on helping others in the community through charitable work. 

Besides their recent Eid al-Adha dinner, they have conducted charitable fundraising for CAPWN and assisted WNCC’s annual computer sale in which the college sells older computers and equipment to the public. 

Croft, the group’s faculty sponsor, said that, “as a religious group, MSA can receive no direct funding from the college like other student organizations can, so they must raise all of their own funds by separate fundraising projects like working on this computer sale.” 

Instead of keeping the money they raised over the year, the MSA buys some of the equipment that was not sold and is arranging for it to be shipped to Gambia. These “old” computers will then be used in schools and “other educational purposes for Gambians who often have limited technology available,” Sarr said.


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