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Islam Awareness Week seeks to promote positive understanding of Islam on campus

By web

Section: Front Page, News

April 4, 2014

This week on campus, Brandeis hosted its annual “Islam Awareness Week,” established to raise awareness about Islam and to remove misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. Sponsored by the Muslim Student Association, the various events held over the course of a week included an Islam 101 lecture, photography exhibit, an Interfaith lunch and prayer and more.

Islam Awareness Week is a national project that was started by the Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada in the early 1990s. According to its website, Islam Awareness Week seeks to promote a positive understanding of Islam and hopes to build and strengthen connections and relationships within the university community. The organization claims a successful Islam Awareness Week “not only involves first understanding whom your target audience is, but also involves choosing which activities your audience would be interested in and thus attend.”

Keeping that in mind, members of the Brandeis Muslim Student Association started discussing this week’s events at the end of fall semester. They primarily started planning for it about a month before so that they could create committees for each of the events.

Zoha Hussain ’14, a member of the Brandeis Muslim Student Association, explained that each year the events change slightly, but it always starts and ends in the same way.

“We always start off with an Islam 101 event with a professor on the first day so that the community can have some basic background for the week. And we always end with the weekly prayer on Fridays,” Hussain said.

This year’s Islam 101 featured Professor Joseph Lumbard from the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies department. An assistant professor of classical Islam, his research focuses on Islamic intellectual traditions with an emphasis on Sufism and Islamic philosophy. He is the editor of “Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition” (World Wisdom, 2004), a collection of essays concentrating on religious, political and historical factors that led to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. He is currently researching the development of Sufi theories of love in the early Islamic period and their influence on Persian Sufi tradition.

Lumbard’s talk focused on the five pillars of Islam, the Hajj and the similarities between Islam and other Abrahamic faiths. According to co-president Alina Cheema ’15, Lumbard’s speech was originally supposed to be only about 25 minutes, but he ended up using the entire hour and a half designated to answer the questions from mostly non-Muslim students.

“Students were eager to hear more, and the entire event was much more than we hoped for,” Cheema said.

Lumbard spoke about the meaning of each of the five pillars of Islam. The last pillar, Hajj, is the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and is the largest gathering of Muslim people in the world every year. It is considered the most significant manifestation of Islamic faith and unity in the world and according to Lumbard, is a “once in a lifetime duty that is the peak of their religious life.”

Lumbard also spent a portion of his time talking about the Quran, the Holy Book of Islam. The Quran is organized into chapters called surah, and verses called ayat. Specifically, he argued that parts of the Holy Book give an inkling toward other religions.

This year’s Islam Awareness week also featured the “MyJihad” project, a public education campaign that seeks to share the proper meaning of Jihad as believed and practiced by the majority of Muslims. Hussain claimed that this year’s mission was to break down misrepresentations of the word jihad, a term that is often portrayed badly due to Muslim extremists, the media portrayal and attempts at public indoctrination by Islamophobes. The campaign was started in Chicago by an activist named Ahmed Rehab. It was an independent initiative to break down the meaning of the word “jihad,” which translates to “struggling in the way of God.”

Brandeis took part in this effort through a photography project, where students wrote down their struggles. It could be something religiously-affiliated or not, the choice was left open. They then used “#myjihad” to relate it to the struggle for justice that Muslims currently face.

Hussain said that they did this last year, but this year the project had an even larger presence.

“We had over 50 people participate,” Hussain said. “We asked the Brandeis community to take part in our project because everyone has a struggle, whether it’s related to religion or not.”

Other events from Islam Awareness Week included “Scarves for Solidarity,” giving women on campus the option to wear a headscarf who don’t normally wear one and then participating in a discussion later on in the day.

Lastly, Brandeis will host an Interfaith lunch and prayer on Friday in the International Lounge at 12:50 p.m., and the club has invited MSA groups from Tufts, Wellesley, Boston College, Boston University, Simmons and Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

“We want to invite other schools to this event to show them what we’re doing to raise awareness about Islam on our campus,” Hussain said. “We also hope that people of all religious groups come to this event to listen, learn and contribute to an interesting discussion.”

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