Event at Coffman Union helps start Islam Awareness Week on campus

Liala Helal

Terrorism is something that everybody is against, and instead of dividing, people should work together to counter it, said University student Rima Reda.

Al-Madinah Cultural Center and the Muslim Students Association kicked off its Islam Awareness Week on Monday. The main event, called Islam: The Best Defense Against Terrorism, was at night in Coffman Union Theater.

“We want to challenge preconceived notions that people have about Islam and about their world,” said Reda, an assistant coordinator of the program.

Islam Awareness Week is the center’s largest event of the year. This year’s theme is “Islam: The Unexplored Alternative.”

Reda said she hopes the week will “create a greater awareness and understanding about Islam and Islamic culture.”

Mohammad el-Sawaf, a University student and program moderator, said that unfortunately, the media have used terrorism side by side with Islam, and it shouldn’t be used that way.

He said he hopes the week will “clean up stereotypes and clarify what Islamic culture and values really are.”

During the main event Monday, speaker Shaker Elsayed, the founding director of the Muslim World Institute in Washington, spoke about the values of Islam. Such values include peace, mercy, freedom, balance and justice. He gave examples from the Quran that he said prove Islam has nothing to do with terrorism or violence.

“Islam is a religion of peace,” he said. “Just like all other religions, Islam aims at spreading peace.”

Elsayed said Islam values human life.

“Life is a gift from God,” Elsayed said. “Nobody should take the life of someone else.”

He said the Quran emphasizes this concept when it states, “If anyone kills a human being, it is as if he has killed all of mankind.”

Elsayed said negative and false stereotypes about Islam have escalated since Sept. 11, 2001.

“After Sept. 11, everybody jumped on the bandwagon of bashing Islam,” he said.

If there is one thing Elsayed hopes people realize, he said, it is “Islam has a solution – it is not a problem.”

“If we continue to think that Islam is a problem, we will not reach a solution,” he said.

Graduate student and attendee Zeeshan Syedain said he mainly learned the correct definition of “jihad” by listening to the speech.

Elsayed said in his speech that ” ‘jihad’ is an Arabic word that means ‘to strive for excellence and to excel to be the best.’ “

Syedain said people often perceive jihad to be picking up a weapon and using it.

“In reality, it is performing well at what you’re doing and giving it your all,” he said.

University student Faraz Currimbhoy said he learned there are numerous types of jihad that students can practice, such as working hard at school or taking care of one’s parents.

University student and volunteer organizer Susan Samaha said the events throughout the rest of the week intend to “allow people to understand the true meaning of Islam.”

She encourages anyone to attend and ask questions, she said.

University students and attendees Hallie Olson and Anita Severt said they felt “very welcome at the event.”

At the end, el-Sawaf said he felt positive about the week.

“I feel that the speech tonight and the events throughout the rest of the week help encourage a better understanding of Muslims, both on campus and throughout the world,” he said.