Muslim students seek to reach out

Islam Awareness Week hopes to inspire understanding within the community.

Justin Horwath

Nandita Rahman said she felt there was a lack of understanding about Islam growing up in Crookston.

As a member of the only Muslim family in town, she said it was difficult to practice her religion, especially since the nearest mosque was 70 miles away in Fargo.

“In a Christian-dominated city, you’re not going to find a lot of kosher,” she said. “Worship there was harder.”

However, Rahman finds the Twin Cities a much more accepting community, calling it a “hot spot for Muslims.”

And since moving here two summers ago from Duluth, the cell biology and genetics junior said she is more in sync with her religion. She is now an active member of the Muslim Student Association, which is cosponsoring Islam Awareness Week to combat stereotypes of Muslims and help open dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims.

“We don’t want to come off as cold and distant,” she said. “There is this fear if (people) ask us something, they’ll offend us.”

According to president of the Al-Madinah Cultural Center, Mus’ab Husaini, the theme for this year is Pax Islamica.

The computer engineering senior said the theme was chosen to tackle negative images of Muslims in the media and to highlight aspects of Islam that might not be illustrated in a post-Sept. 11 era.

“We’re presenting the overall idea of Islam with the overall idea of peace,” he said.

Kicking off the week was a lecture put on by Muslim activist and scholar Samir Saikali.

Around 35 students gathered in Coffman Union’s Theater on Monday, and after prayer, Saikali talked about the role of social welfare in Islam.

Before the seminar, Saikali said misconceptions about Islam are due to a lack of dialogue and communication between Muslims and non-Muslims.

“There’s always somebody looking down on somebody,” he said. “We’re not talking at the same level.”

Vice President of the Al-Madinah Cultural center, Alia El Bakri said she hopes Islam Awareness Week will help reach out to

non-Muslim students on campus and educate them about Islam.

“We just want to connect with people. We’re regular students just like anyone else,” she said.

At the lecture, Saikali opened up the discussion for questions and was asked to clarify the use of the term Jihad.

He said Western culture and media sometimes incorrectly translate the term to mean “holy war,” often placing it in a negative context.

Whereas in the Muslim community, he said, Jihad is used to describe a struggle for something good.

“The highest form of Jihad is to speak the truth,” he said. “That is the concept of Jihad – going out of your comfort zone to achieve something good.”

Individualized study senior Molly Slovnik, a non-Muslim, said she found the lecture useful and thinks there should be more understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.

“I think America is involved in so many ways in Muslim countries but with very little understanding with what their cultures think of human rights,” she said.