The act of embracing diversity and adhering to religious tolerance has been a value our parents, teachers and nation’s leaders have tried to instill in our everyday lives for decades, yet religion still resides as a controversial subject. The Muslim Student Association is hosting numerous events the week of March 6 as part of their Discover Islam Week. According to Muslim Chaplain Nargis Alizada ‘13, a main focus of the week is to educate people on the Islamic faith and Muslim people and to give people a greater understanding of and empathy for Muslim people.
“Rather than focusing on Islamophobia, our focus is on how to be an ally,” said Alizada. “With what is going on in our world today with Black Lives Matter, the Muslim ban, the immigration ban and the xenophobia that is going on against our Latino brothers and sisters … I think this is a time to stand together, which is why the focus of today was how to support your Muslim community.”
The week kicked off on March 6 with speaker Imam Sami Abdul Aziz, president of Common Ground Institutes and Services and Muslim Chaplain at Wesleyan University and Quinnipiac University, on how to overcome hate and establish a common ground of respect.
Treasurer of MSA Semina Kojic ‘17 explained why Aziz is a good speaker to start with.
“Since this year we wanted to focus on how to be an ally, we thought that bringing someone who speaks about Islamophobia and being an ally and who started Common Ground Institute would be a good speaker to start our week off with,” said Kojic.
According to Aziz, the Pew Research Center indicates that over 60 percent of Americans have never met a Muslim. When provided with this data, we have the advantage and opportunity to re-evaluate the stereotypes that have made Islam a dehumanized and hated religion.
Aziz spoke positively on Discover Islam week and mentioned a desire to come back to Fairfield University to speak more about Islam.
“I hope Chaplain Nargis continues to do these events,” said Aziz. “I would love to come back again and do more training. I have an Islam 101 presentation, an ISIS presentation and even could talk deeper about Islamophobia and look into different cases and different violations.”
Junior Neil Casey, who attended the event, believed that he learned a lot from it.
“It was good and very informative. I had heard some of the things before, like I’ve seen bad media [about Islam] before, but I didn’t know any of the statistics really or any of the wrongs that had been done to Muslim people. Now I feel like I could speak to a Muslim person about the issue.”
Aziz said that he wished more students attended the event.
“[Discover Islam Week] is really key to understanding Muslims,” Aziz commented. “I think it should happen every week, but at least one week is good. I wish more students came tonight. I felt like more people should have come.”
Alizada explained that Discover Islam Week typically happens in April; however, this year the events were moved to March because Ayaan Hirsi Ali is coming on Wednesday, March 8 for the Open VISIONS Forum.
Ali is an outspoken critic of Islam.
“As a Muslim and as an alumni, when speakers like her are invited, it does not make me feel like Fairfield is a safe space for Muslims,” said Alizada. “The route that people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali has taken benefits only one small group of people, specifically white supremacists.”
An Interfaith Allies Dinner in the Charles F. Dolan School of Business was held on March 7. This dinner continued the discussion about the Islamic faith and the fraught misconceptions of calling them “the other.”
“I think it’s important that students get an understanding of Islam and meet Muslims so that they aren’t just being shown certain images and having negative perspectives,” said Kojic. “It’s a more positive perspective of Islam and the Muslim community.”
Hijab Day on Wednesday, March 8 will allow individuals to experience the life of a Muslim woman by wearing an Islamic headscarf, followed by a reflection and conversation in the McGrath Commons.
“I think it’s a really good slate of events,” Aziz said. “I think that Chaplain Nargis is doing awesome, especially the hijab event that she’s doing is great because the Muslims in America who are most identified by someone who wants to attack Muslims is a woman wearing the headscarf. And so the fact that she’s encouraging people to learn about and wear the headscarf is a way for Muslims to feel like they are part of society when they see other people wearing it.”
An additional event that will be happening for Discover Islam Week is a speech on Thursday, March 9 by Rais Bhuyian, the president and founder of World Without Hate, which, according to their website, is an organization dedicated to spreading forgiveness, empathy and acceptance.
The final event of the week will be held on Friday with an observation of the Jum’a prayer or the Islamic Friday congregational prayer.
Freshman Hailee Sullivan hopes to go to one of the events for Discover Islam Week.
“Especially today with the current political climate, I think it’s important to broaden students’ horizons on acceptance and to understand different cultures,” she said.