Islam Awareness Week Promotes Understanding on UCI Campus

This week on campus is Islam Awareness Week, brought to you by the Muslim Student Union (MSU). With over 300 registered organizations on our campus, we are spoiled with amazing programming that enlightens and educates us. With so many events on campus, why should you come to Islam Awareness Week? Well, besides the fact that Napoleon, formerly of Tu Pac’s Outlaws, is the keynote speaker, Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world and for the better part of a decade has played a significant role in our media, politics and campus lives. It is only fitting that with the spotlight on the Islamic and Muslim world – both positive and negative – we will better understand it.
The significant role that Islam plays in our nation was most evident during the 2008 presidential race. One of the major attacks on President-elect Barack Obama were accusations that he was a Muslim; label a politician corrupt, evil or a sellout and they shrug it off, but call them a Muslim and watch them fight it like it was the “red scare.” During one of Obama’s rallies, a girl wearing a hijab was asked not to sit in a center-aisle, front-row seat behind him. Why is it that Obama’s campaign was so fearful of being linked to Muslims?
Since 9/11, everyone has become a so-called “expert on Islam,” and these “experts” have written books, have Web sites or blogs and frequently appear on “Fair and Balanced” news networks. In the information age and with tools such as the Internet, many of us have sold ourselves short in terms of seeking the truth, especially when it comes to Islam, by allowing these “experts” to be our sources of information. I was saddened to find that the influence of these “experts” have touched classes that are designed to teach awareness and understanding, such as the educational outreach program Reaffirming Ethnic Awareness and Community Harmony, which uses these “expert” books as academic sources on the fundamentals of Islam. We have heard them talk about women in Islam without one of them ever being a Muslim woman. We have heard them purposely misquote the Quran and the Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to push self-righteous agendas, and we have heard them tell us what Islam is and what it preaches in order to promote politics of fear.
The images of women in hijabs and burquas and men with guns chanting against the United States have been burned into our minds, while the echoes of words like “Jihad,” “infidel” and “martyrdom” ring in our ears whenever Islam is mentioned. These words and images make up and affect our view of Islam and Muslims. However, if the stereotypical thoughts that we have were to hold, and if Islam was truly what the media paints it to be, then why is it the fastest-growing religion in the world? Why are Arabs only 15 percent of Muslims in the world? Why do African-Americans make up the majority of Muslims in the United States (26 percent)?
Islam appeals to so many for a variety of reasons. It is a religion of peace, empowerment and justice and the Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is truly a man that we should all aspire to be like. You don’t have to take my word for it! That is why the keynote speaker during Islam Awareness Week is Napoleon, formerly of Tu Pac’s Outlaws. His story and life embodies the empowering effects and changes that Islam can have on a human being: from an orphan to an Outlaw, living it up in the most luxurious lifestyle and then giving it all up. Make sure to check him out on Thursday at noon at the flag poles and again that night in Crystal Cove Auditorium.
This week, more so than most, is a week dedicated to educating the campus about Islam. In the times we live in today and due to the attention that is given to Islam, it is necessary to know what the religion truly teaches. Come out to this week’s events to clear up misconceptions and learn. We want to hear from you as well, so write on the giant easel that is conveniently located next to the MSU information table where you can get a flier. For more information, check out msu-uci.com.

Joseph Haider is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at jhaider@uci.edu.