Students celebrate culture and smash misconceptions about Islam by Laura Taveras, Photos by Demi Rodriguez
Just before Spring Break, a number of groups gathered in front of the North Academic Center to celebrate student diversity with a focus on our Muslim population with the tenth annual Islamic Awareness Week. Volunteers from several student organizations provided free iced coffee and food while talking to other students about Islam.
The events aimed to help educate the student body. According to Rohima Ali, a 20 year old sociology major volunteer, “Our whole purpose is to clear any misconceptions people may have about Islam, especially given the media focus on jihad and ISIS. People have the wrong idea on Islam.”
Organizations included the Muslim Students Organization (MSO), Women in Islam, American Muslim Scientists and Muslims Giving Back. Representatives freely admitted that student and faculty reaction has been positive, with people taking time between classes to participate and listen to the volunteers.
Hawa-Gimballa, a biology major and member of MSO, shared the organization’s charity work. “ We are collecting money for the recent earthquake in Ecuador,” she said. “Events like these help promote worthwhile organizations that focus on inclusion.”
She stressed that despite stereotypes, her religion should be focused on kindness and love. “It’s not only about Muslims,” Gimballa said. “We talk about Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims. Islam means peace and purity.”
Muslim Awareness Day highlighted the vast diversity of our school. Arabic was the native language of 165 students in our Fall 2015 class, a number that has risen consistently since 2006. It is the fourth largest native language of non-English students, behind Spanish, Chinese, and Bengali.
Passersby were supportive of the event. “It isn’t about promoting Islam,” said Chris Valentin, a political science major. “It looks like it’s about promoting awareness and respect for our school’s diversity.”
Given recent terrorist attacks in the Middle East and Europe and the war against ISIS, the volunteers felt it was necessary to promote a more positive image of Muslims. Many took aim at how Muslims are viewed by the media.
“Because of the bombings in Paris and elsewhere, everyone wants to get up and blame the Muslims,” sighed 23 year old Fallou Tall, majoring in geology. “When I wear my Muslim clothes, people look at me in different ways. This week helps bring out some basic understanding of Islam, because you can’t go just on what the media says.”
Others were quick to agree. “The media’s portrayal of Muslims is definitely not fair. It is not a clear picture of us at all,” said Sallah Amin, a 22 year old electrical engineering major.
Pointing to the crowd, many splattered with color in honor of a Hindu tradition highlighting sister- and brotherhood, he added, “I think this would be a clear picture right here, spreading love and peace in the community.”