Emory University’s Muslim religious life scholar resigns

Isam Vaid says his departure was planned and disputes recording that prompted his suspension
Pro-Palestinian protesters march at the Emory University campus in Atlanta on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/AJC FILE PHOTO)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Pro-Palestinian protesters march at the Emory University campus in Atlanta on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/AJC FILE PHOTO)

This story has been updated.

Emory University’s Muslim religious life scholar resigned Wednesday, a departure he said he planned in advance of being suspended while the school reviews comments he allegedly made that turned him into a target of a conservative watchdog group.

Isam Vaid worked with students through the private Atlanta school’s Office of Spiritual and Religious Life for 16 years. Emory suspended him July 3, the day after an account on X posted a video it said was recorded by an “undercover journalist” during an “investigation into radical Islamism and antisemitism present on America’s university campuses.”

Vaid on Wednesday resigned from his part-time role in a letter that also disputed the video recording, which he said “distorts and misconstrues my views.” The Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations provided a copy of his resignation letter Thursday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The nearly 9-minute video that led to his suspension consists of clips edited together and reportedly recorded in February while Vaid was unaware he was being filmed, according to the social media account @V24Investigates. The video was then referenced by Accuracy in Media, a self-described “watchdog organization with a particular focus on higher education,” as part of a campaign to force Vaid’s resignation.

In the video, Vaid allegedly said that Hamas “has been a humanitarian organization” that’s “been giving money to widows and... sending children to school and building hospitals.” He also allegedly said that “every single Israeli is obligated to serve” in the Israel Defense Forces and “therefore then you are a military target.”

In a Thursday statement to the AJC, Emory said: “After suspending Dr. Isam Vaid on Wednesday, July 3, Emory launched an internal review into the deeply concerning comments attributed to him.” The school confirmed that Vaid “resigned from his Emory-affiliated roles” a week later.

In his resignation letter, Vaid described the video as “heavily edited” and called the situation “defamatory targeting.” He said the recording was taken while he spoke to a person “who falsely identified himself as an Emory student” and who had asked to speak with him “about an emotional crisis he was experiencing due to Gaza.”

Vaid wrote: “After the student shared views that struck me as extreme and indicated that he was considering leaving school to move to the Middle East, I desperately attempted to talk him down and change his mind. During our conversation, I attempted to sympathize with him, repeat some of his claims back to him, engage him on the points he raised, gain his trust, and — in doing so — convince him to ultimately trust my advice.”

“I thought I was successful in changing his mind. It was not until last week, when a heavily edited and distorted video of our interaction appeared online, that I realized this individual was apparently a hate group member posing as a student in an attempt to smear me.”

Vaid said his decision to step down was already in the works because Emory has hired a full-time Muslim chaplain. Vaid called on Emory to protect students and faculty, including those of the Muslim faith, “from such harassment, disinformation and other abuses.”

Accuracy in Media said it was deploying a mobile billboard Wednesday to drive around the Emory campus and call attention to the Vaid situation. It’s a tactic the organization has used before at campuses across the nation “to fight antisemitism.”

Emory has been embroiled in controversy on such topics since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Last fall, Emory placed an assistant professor on leave, citing “antisemitic comments” posted to a private social media account. Emory later confirmed that it no longer employs the professor, a Palestinian American doctor, but declined to answer questions about the results of its internal investigation into what it said was a personnel matter.

In late April, 23 people were arrested, including 15 students, amid pro-Palestinian protests on campus. Emory’s handling of that incident sparked outcry from some students and faculty and led to several no-confidence resolutions of President Gregory Fenves. The university has hired an Atlanta attorney to review its actions during the protest.

Also this spring, civil rights groups filed a federal complaint accusing Emory of allowing anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and Islamophobic discrimination.