UC Davis’ Muslim Student Association (MSA) kicked off its annual Islam Awareness Month last Thursday, seeking to demonstrate the many faces of followers of Islam.
The month’s theme, “I am Muslim …” is an open-ended examination of the various sources of inspiration to worship of those within the Muslim community.
Events will span five weeks, each of which bearing a sub-theme, and will incorporate activities intended to engage students. They will take place on the quad, and there will also be reflections later in the evening.
Last week’s theme centered on the topic of community, drawing parallels between the role Japanese-Americans played during WWII with that which Muslim-Americans play today in a post-Sept. 11 world.
“People think that prejudice and racism no longer exist,” said Hammad Shere, president of the MSA. “But they’re wrong. Discrimination [still occurs on] a regular basis, and only by debunking these misconceptions and educating others will people learn that you can’t generalize an entire population based on the acts of a few individuals.”
Shere, a senior biological sciences major, cited recent comments made by San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón regarding the city’s Arab community and terrorist acts as evidence that underlying racism still exists.
Events continue into week two with a movie screening of “New Muslim Cool,” a film about Puerto Rican-American rapper/ex-drug dealer Hamza Pérez and his conversion to Islam. The film connects to the week’s theme, which considers the role of choice and responsibility in the lives of practicing Muslims.
The third week’s theme is “I am Muslim not to serve men, but to serve God!” and will involve a discussion of the rights of women in Islam by disproving common stereotypes of Muslim women as submissive and oppressed.
MSA Co-outreach coordinator Abnette Kaffl explains the false perceptions that many people hold regarding the place of women.
“Muslim women do not exist to obey and submit to a man,” Kaffl said. “We are not forced to wear a hijab (headscarf) or to follow [Islamic law]. We [do so in order to] obey and submit to God.”
Kaffl, a junior cell biology major, said she appreciates the close relationship with God that Islam allows her to have.
“Islam forces me to be constantly self-aware of my thoughts, actions and relationships with others,” she said. “It’s easy to [stay aware] of those things when you know you’ll be facing God [in prayer] again in a few hours.”
Week four begins with a lecture by speaker Imam Azeez, religious leader and political activist from Sacramento. The theme of “I am Muslim…don’t hate” seeks to acknowledge the impact that hate crimes – like the ones that have recently swept UC campuses – have on all members of a community, not just Muslims.
The vandalism of the UC Davis Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center is the real terrorism, not Islam, said Shere.
Azeez will discuss “illnesses of the heart,” according to Kamran Islam, MSA da’wah or “outreach” committee head. Islam further explains that emotions such as hatred can lead to a diseased heart. Yet, Islam insists that the Prophet Muhammad teaches Muslims to treat others with respect and love regardless if you agree with their views.
Islam, a junior political science and philosophy double major, expands on why he appreciates the guidance religion has provided him.
“The teachings of Muhammad and of the Quran have helped me understand all the things I take for granted,” he said. “Being Muslim is like a blessing that just helps you see all the other blessings in your life.”
The final week concludes the month with a look into the significance and influence Jesus Christ (known as “Isa” in Arabic) has had in the Islam religion. The MSA hopes to hold more of a dialogue than a debate in which participants can share their opinions with one another with respect.
Shere reflects on being a Muslim, noting that this month of awareness can help show people how simple understanding Islam can be.
“I’m proud to be a Muslim,” Shere said. “I have the answers to all of my questions. Islam offers no insecurity, ambiguity or confusion. It is a complete religion. And I, as a follower, am perfectly at peace.”
KYLE SPORLEDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.