By Emaan Elahi
The Muslim Students Association (MSA) at SMU attracted increasing numbers of students curious about Islam at its annual Islam Awareness Week (IAW) from March 14–18 at the Hughes-Trigg Student Center. More than 100 students attended the weeklong event put together by the MSA’s executive committee.
IAW remains as one of the organization’s most prominent events during the school year because it provides a voice for college Muslims.
Founded in 1985, MSA’s goal is to offer its members and nonmembers a resource to learn about Islam. Through service projects, community events and religious lectures, the SMU Muslim Students Association hopes to unify Muslims and people of different faiths on campus.
Islam Awareness Week is the organization’s biggest event in the spring semester. Its goal is to reduce Islamophobia’s stigma and shed a positive light on Islam to the student body. Omer Ahmed, vice president of MSA, wants people to get a better understanding of Islam through IAW.
“When people think of Muslims they think of what they see in the media. There are so many positive aspects of Islam, but how are people supposed to see them when no one is showing them? That’s why we have Islam Awareness Week. We have to show them,” Ahmed said.
Each day of Islam Awareness Week showcases a topic that addresses current misconceptions about Islam. The themes include Islamophobia, inclusion in Islam, women in Islam, Interfaith Day and famous Muslims.
March Against Islamophobia
Monday’s theme, March against Islamophobia, addressed misconceptions about Muslims. Students were tested on their knowledge of the questions, and some people were comfortable enough to share their own perspective of Islam. This allowed for healthy dialogue between the Muslim and non-Muslim students. Dalia El-Hag, an MSA member, said the trivia game was beneficial because the questions were not too overwhelming so people were able to learn basic facts about Islam.
Inclusion in Islam
Tuesday focused on inclusion of different ethnicities, religions and cultures in Islam. The event in Hughes-Trigg included a movie of interviews by Muslim students. The students talked about their experiences of being Muslim in America and how religion affected their lives.
The movie’s goal was to show how Muslims practice their religion while also being good citizens of their country. Ahmed said the movie was shown to help build a bridge between Muslims and non-Muslims on campus.
“It will show a representation of the American Muslim,” Ahmed said. “People will get to see we are just like them because we can identify with our religion along with American values. We don’t have to pick one.”
Following the movie, guest speaker Sheihk Gyazi Mackenzie talked to the group of more than 30 attendees about how Islam values inclusion and diversity. Students asked questions about human rights in Islam, the media and the rhetoric used by politicians. According to Afshan Lakhani, an MSA member, Mackenzie’s talk was pivotal in combatting Islamophobia.
“It was great seeing not only Muslims, but non-Muslims in the crowd because it only proves that such dialogue pertains to people of all different backgrounds,” Lakhani said.
Women in Islam
Wednesday’s theme, Women in Islam, presented Islam’s views on the role of women. The Why Islam Project, an outreach program that uses creative ways to spread awareness about Islam, spoke to students about the representation of women in Islam.
They set up displays of important female figures, artifacts and food in the Porticos to hand out to SMU students. They also handed out English translations about women from the Qur’an, had hijabs for girls to try on and a short quiz to assess how non-Muslims perceive Islam’s view on women. Ahmed said that Wednesday’s event is the most important day because of the widespread misconception about the treatment of women in Islam.
“People assume women are inferior to men in Islam. In fact, it’s the opposite because women receive a lot of respect in Islam, and there are amazing female figures in Islam that we look up to,” Ahmed said.
Thursday’s event, Interfaith Day, consisted of an interfaith panel of a Muslim, Hindu, and two Christian students in the Commons. More than 30 people attended the panel, and the audience asked questions about marriage, coexistence, religion in the media and how religion affects their lives.
The panel engaged in interactive dialogue between each other and the audience. It provided a voice for people of other religions on campus and Muslims to interact. Junior, Mariela Estrada, said the panel was engaging and showed coexistence was possible.
“It gives you the ability to see things from a different point of view and to see how religion affects us all as people,” Estrada said.
Famous Muslim Friday
Famous Muslim Friday was the last day of Islam Awareness Week and consisted of a large set up in the Hughes-Trigg Commons of various famous Muslims from around the world. Large poster boards and a projected screen had images of famous Muslims ranging from models, singers, athletes and actors.
At 2 p.m., the Muslim Students Association held a public prayer, Jummah, in the commons. More than 60 men and women attended this prayer, and it was visible to those inside of Hughes-Trigg. Many people stopped to watch the sermon and see the students pray. Ahmed says having Jummah in the commons is a great way to end Islam Awareness Week.
“I think people like to see other religions pray. Everyone knows we pray five times a day but no one knows how we pray,” Ahmed said. “Ending Islam Awareness Week with prayer is the best way to show Islam in its true form.”
MSA President Syed Hassnain Rizvi said Islam Awareness Week 2016 was a success because MSA was able to reach out to a wide audience and develop interest about Islam among the SMU community.