Islam Awareness Week aims to combat stereotypes

Tom Lopez

With a traditional Islamic invocation Monday, the Muslim Students Association began Islam Awareness Week, five days devoted to giving the student body a better understanding of the Islamic faith.
“The basic focus is to raise awareness about what Islam means, both as a religion and more importantly as a way of life for literally over a billion people on the planet,” said Azhar Usman, who is delivering a series of speeches in the residence halls throughout the week.
Usman, a first-year law student at the University, said raising awareness of Islam is especially important because of negative stereotypes of Muslims prevalent in many Western nations. He blames many of these stereotypes on the media. Citing the portrayal of Muslims in such films as “Executive Decision” and “True Lies,” he said television and movies tend to demonize the Islamic religion. “Undoubtedly, there are a lot of smear tactics going on in the media,” he said.
He also places some responsibility for such stereotypes on the U.S. government. “To a large extent, to justify an inflated defense budget, it’s in the United States government’s best interests to see to it that there’s a common enemy,” Usman said.
Creating such an understanding is the purpose of the events this week, which include presentations at residence halls, a cultural festival, and a study circle.
Adeel Ahmed, the Muslim Student Association president, said it is important to hold such events at the University because the Islamic studies department has been the victim of recent cutbacks. It shows, he said, in the quality and quantity of the classes now being offered. “They’ve cut (the program) back to almost nothing,” Ahmed said.
Ahmed added that he would like to see more funds go to all the religious studies programs at the University, but believes that Islamic studies have been discriminated against through the preferential treatments of Biblical and Hebrew studies. “America is a Christian nation,” he said. But he said it is very important that Americans are exposed to Islamic culture. “Rather than blindfolding the American people, we should open their eyes,” he said.
Islam Awareness Week has been celebrated at the University for more than six years. Mamoon Syed, a University graduate and adviser to the Muslim Student Association, said the association has about 250 members. Syed said the event is recognized nationwide and in parts of Canada.
In their presentation Monday at Comstock Hall, Usman and Syed addressed students’ concerns with the more controversial aspects of the Islamic faith — most prominently, its attitudes toward women. They said that in this subject, again, there are misconceptions. Usman said that in Muslim history, men have denied women rights that Islamic teaching granted them. However, he drew a distinction between the practices of those Muslims and the doctrine of Islam. “It is a simple mind that judges the doctrine by its exponents,” he said.
“In fact, Islam granted women many rights which at that time were unheard of,” he said. “In this country, women didn’t have the right to vote until a half century ago. According to (Islamic) doctrine, Muslim women have been voting since its inception.” Confusions such as these, Usman said, cause misunderstandings between cultures and precipitates conflict. It is especially important, therefore, to clear up misunderstandings between the Islamic religion, the fastest-growing religion in the world, and the U.S., the most powerful nation, he said.
“This is something that’s important for us as Americans to realize,” he said. “The world follows the U.S.’ lead..”