MSU Raises Awareness About Islam

A religious service hosted by the Muslim Student Union (MSU) welcomed students and community members of all backgrounds to join in a sermon and prayer last Friday.

“I really liked the feeling of unity during the prayer and the calm and friendly environment,” said Tiffany Pham, a second-year biological sciences major. “The speaker really connected everyone together and I felt really comfortable.”

The event, held in Pacific Ballroom, was part of MSU’s Islam Awareness Series. The series is put on annually by the student organization in order to dispel misconceptions about Islam and inform students about Islamic beliefs and practices, and to encourage dialogue among the campus community. This year’s theme was “Root of our Identity, Basis of our Unity.”

Throughout the last two weeks, MSU hosted a gamut of events, many of which were held on Ring Road and the Student Center terrace. One booth was an interactive discussion about the concept of God and Islamic values, while another provided students with the opportunity to prepare peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a Santa Ana homeless shelter.

“We held a sandwich-making booth because MSU is very committed to charity work, which is a reflection of Islamic principles and teachings,” said Huda Herwees, a third-year MSU member.

The highlight of the series’ first week was a performance of Rohina Malik’s “Unveiled,” a one-woman play that depicts the challenges that Muslim American women of different ethnic backgrounds faced after 9/11. Attended by students, faculty and local community members, Mailk’s play was borne out of her desire to challenge stereotypes about the Muslim community.

“The play was inspired by some real-life stories, but the biggest motivation for me to write the play was knowing that negative stereotypes and degrading language, if left unchallenged, create an atmosphere for hate crimes,” said Malik, who was recently awarded by the World Young Women’s Christian Association for her work toward preventing racism and empowering women.

In light of the murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, NC, MSU also held a vigil in front of the flagpoles during the first week of the series. Approximately 200 students gathered to commemorate the lives of Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Abu-Salha.

“The tragic incident in Chapel Hill is a testament to the importance of spreading awareness in order to prevent additional hate crimes,” said Samah Malik, a fourth-year business and information management major.

Hassan Elwan, a local Islamic scholar and leader who led the Friday sermon, referenced the Chapel Hill shooting during his service. Elwan stressed the importance of interfaith work and getting to know members of other communities to preserve tolerance and safety.

“The reason any crime happens is because people do not know each other,” said Elwan. “Instead of blaming the media, which is not in our control, we can and should control our actions and reactions.”

Drew Alyeshmerni, manager of the OC Jewish Campus Leadership Initiative, said that the sermon and prayer helped to foster interfaith relationships between students and the community.

“I think that this message was refreshing and I think that this message needs to spread,” said Alyeshmerni. “As an American on the outside, all we see is terrorism and what happened in Paris. After hearing this, I feel hopeful. We don’t need to be afraid. We need to build interfaith relationships and forge trust among students and the community.”

On Wednesday of last week, MSU held Islam 101, an information session about the basic beliefs of Islam and common misconceptions held about Islam. The session was led by local religious director Mustafa Umar in the Cross-Cultural Center.

“The questions asked about extremism and ISIS during the Q&A show us why it’s especially important for us to clear misconceptions about Islam and to show how these actions of violence are politically-based rather than religious,” said Ana Mendoza, a third-year religious studies major.

Other often-misunderstood topics about Islam that were discussed included Islamic manners and values and the life of Muhammad, whom Muslims revere as the final prophet of Islam. MSU sought to give extra attention to these topics by reaching out to students on Ring Road with interactive activities and games.

“It was interesting to learn about Islam’s value of human life and the importance of not harming oneself or anyone else,” said first-year Ashleen Shergill, who participated in the games at the booth. “I am Sikh and I saw many parallels between Sikhism and Islam.”

Saamiyah Ahmed, an MSU member and a first-year student, was optimistic about the results of MSU’s awareness series.

The series held one last event this past Monday: a discussion about the legacy of Malcolm X, led by Professor Sohail Daulatzai.

“Ultimately we hope that these events help us strengthen our connections with other members of the community,” said Ahmed.  “We are eagerly looking forward to next year’s series, but we anticipate many additional interfaith and community events in the meantime.”