By Debra J. White –
“Coffee, donuts and talk to a Muslim?” representatives of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) asked students and faculty as they passed by their information table. Some students flew by, saying they’d visit later. Others on skateboards or plugged into headphones seemed oblivious. Yet now and then students or faculty stopped for the free snacks and to talk about Islam. Muslim students, both men and women, were pleased to share information about their religion and student organization.
Monday, March 27, began Islam Awareness Week at Arizona State University, one of the largest public universities in the United States. The MSA offered a week of informational sessions to explain Islam, past and present.
Starting on Monday morning, MSA members set up an information table outside the Memorial Union in the heart of the sprawling main campus. Students volunteered at the table each day during the week. In addition to coffee and donuts, there were pamphlets about Islam available.
During the evening hours, the MSA hosted presentations about aspects of Islam. The first talk, Women in Islam, was presented by local experts Naema Zaman, a Qur’an expert and teacher, and Amal Fayad, a mental health counselor. Their lecture focused on women in Islam throughout history right up to the present including doctors, athletes and Nobel Prize winners. Other lecture topics included the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). There was also a comedy night.
Islam Awareness Week is an annual event, said MSA President Mona Said. The group’s eight-member board works closely to represent Islam through volunteering in community activities on and off campus, participating in interfaith campus events and celebrating their brotherhood and sisterhood. In addition to Islam Awareness Week, the MSA sponsors an annual interfaith Thanksgiving dinner with other campus religious groups. Just recently, the MSA had an informal dinner at the Halal Guys in Tempe with students from Hillel, a campus group for Jewish students. “It was a great way for us to talk and get to know one another,” said Said.
Islamic Awareness Week ended on Saturday, April 1, with an Interfaith Open House at the Islamic Community Center in Tempe. Almost 300 people of different faiths attended to learn about Islam and to celebrate unity, faith and friendship.
After guests signed in and mingled, emcee Zarinah Nadir welcomed everyone. A panel of speakers answered questions from the audience. The panelists included Azra Hussain of the Islamic Speakers Bureau; Deedra Aboud, attorney and local activist; and Imams Didmar Faja and Anas Hleyhel. People wanted to know about sharia law, the difference between Sunni and Shia, what is jihad and what is sinful in Islam.
Bookends of a play written and directed by Bayyinah K. Muhammad called Unveiled: Stories from the Lives of Muslim Women were performed by Qamara Black and Anahi Valencia. The play deconstructs stereotypes about Muslim women through clever dialogue.
After Magrib prayer, a dinner of rice, salad, hummus, pita bread and kabobs from Flaming Kabob was served in the courtyard. Muslims and non-Muslims socialized, enjoying food and lively conversation.
Guests gave various reasons for attending the event. Gerrell Brewer of Tempe was in the area performing community service earlier in the day and heard about the open house. “I said why not? I came with an open mind to learn about Islam. Meet new people,” said Brewer.
Marti Baca of Casa Grande was listening to “Ask a Muslim” earlier in the week on National Public Radio and the program encouraged her to seek out more information about Islam. “I found the open house on the internet so I decided to learn more. I came alone,” she said, sitting at a table full of people, Muslims included.
Amanda Elisala of Phoenix said she attended the open house because it was important to have a better understanding of Islam. “It’s my duty as a citizen of the world to be here and support my fellow human beings.”