Islam has been placed in the limelight for the past decade; almost every news broadcast mentions Islam or Muslims in one way or another. “Experts” have emerged and taken it upon themselves to educate, or attempt to educate, us on this apparently complex and foreign religion.
We are told that Islam is a religion that is based in the vast deserts of the Middle East and that its followers all come from the mysterious lands of the Orient. We are told that Islam preaches the conversion of mankind by force and that it calls for the death of all “infidels” by waging a holy war called Jihad.
We are told that Islam is a patriarchic religion that oppresses women, beating them and forcing them to hide behind a veil. We are told that Islam can’t coexist with the West and modernity. We are told that Islam cannot and will not understand science and its advantages, that Muslims around the world recite and follow the Qur’an blindly, or in other words, are brainwashed. We are also told that the more devout a Muslim is, the more he or she hates and wants to destroy the West.
I can continue this article by refuting every one of the points mentioned above. I can tell you that Arabs make up only 15 percent of the Muslim population, that Muslims can be found in almost every country, and that the majority of Muslims in the United States are African-American. I can tell you that in the Qur’an it states, “There is no compulsion in religion” (Qur’an 2:256). I can write Qur’anic verse after Qur’anic verse about how Islam honors and liberates women, how Islam gave rights which women in the West were only able to attain during the 20th century 1400 years ago. I can give you a full logical explanation about how Islam is a timeless religion and is completely compatible with the 21st century. I can reference the multitude of scientific miracles in the Qur’an, from a detailed explanation of embryonic development to an explanation of the geographic functions of mountains, most of which were only discovered by scientists during the previous century. I can even write telling you how Islam is a religion of peace, kindness and compassion and how such virtues are highlighted throughout the teachings of this faith.
But what is my word, that of a mere student, against those of so-called “experts” who write best-selling books, give lectures at universities and appear on “fair and balanced” news shows? No matter how many articles I could write, these “experts” have already shaped our image of Islam. But I cannot help but feel that as students in one of the best institutions of higher education, if we allow our perception of Islam to be completely shaped by others, that we are belittling our own mental capacities. We have proven that we can think for ourselves and come to our own conclusions by getting to where we are now, so why do we not do so with Islam?
Islam is a religion that calls for one to think, reason and reflect. Several verses in the Qur’an call people to ponder, to go out and figure things out. The first word to be revealed in the Qur’an was “read.” That is why the Muslim Student Union (MSU) is calling students on this campus to come and challenge their minds and hearts and to try and understand Islam through its quarter-long event titled “Islam Awareness Quarter: Knowing the Strangers.” Come and listen to what the real experts on Islam, Muslims themselves, say about the religion. Listen to why the former rapper Loon decided to leave fame and fortune and convert to Islam. Why the former youth pastor, Yusha Evans or the British activist Hamza Tzortis decided to convert to Islam as well. Come challenge yourself to wear the hijab, the Muslim women headscarf, for a day and learn about the status of women in Islam from a Muslim woman herself.
Islam calls for understanding, and there is a verse in the Qur’an that states “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another” (Qur’an 49:13). The MSU is inviting you to attend our events throughout the quarter with an open mind, putting aside pervious perceptions or stereotypes, and with a willingness to understand not only the religion of Islam in general, but also the guy or girl sitting next to you in class. For more information please visit www.msu-uci.com.
Aminah Galal is a third year history major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.