Islam Awareness Week introduces Rutgers students to Muslim community
Throughout this week, a team of about 80 volunteers has come together to put together an annual event — Islam Awareness Week — where activities and giveaways fill a big white tent at Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus.
These activities include community service projects, free henna tattoos and an Islamic calligraphy and prayer bead-making table, said Taufeeq Ahamed, president of the Rutgers University Muslim Student Association. Free food and beverages were also available throughout the week for anyone passing through to enjoy.
Fun and games aside, the event's real purpose was to start a conversation and raise awareness of Islam, the School of Arts and Sciences junior said.
“The purpose of this week is dialogue,” he said. “It is to provide a physical space where the Rutgers Muslim community and the greater Rutgers community can have conversations about Islam, whether it be about ridding misconceptions or to just learn about what the faith itself stands for.”
One of the reasons that Islam awareness is important for the student body is that many students at Rutgers themselves practice the religion, he said.
“Islam is a central component of life for thousands of students here at Rutgers University, with 4000 Muslim students being the most reliable estimate,” Ahamed said. ”It's really important that something that is so talked about in the media and is constantly in the spotlight is spoken about by the very people who live it and follow it on a daily basis."
The preparation for the event is immense, he said. Thousands of dollars had been raised at Muslim community centers across New Jersey, and a team of roughly 80 people worked from December to April to lay out the logistics and programming of the event.
The only difficulties with preparation involved the weather, but Ahamed said he noticed an irony about the stigma of bad weather for an event and the fact that most of their activities happen under a tent.
“I've noticed there's a hidden blessing in it,” he said. “The bad weather brings people to the tent because it's a safe haven of warmth and dryness, and from there the conversations can start."
A Facebook group — Rutgers-NB Islam Awareness Week — follows the event and has been posting interviews and photos of individuals who happened to stop by on the page in a Humans of New York fashion.
One participant in the event, Claude Guy, a New Brunswick local, spoke of how fondly he thinks of the Muslim community.
"I think Muslims are beautiful people. I love people, so when I meet someone, I expect the best — I don't automatically look for the worst,” Guy said. “All Muslims got the bad rep for the kind of things a few people have done, but Muslims are great people.”
Ahamed said the only thing that continues to surprise him is how dedicated the members of the Muslim Student Association are in coming together to put this event together.
“They sacrifice so much of their collective time and energy for this event, and as their president, it truly humbles me to see their enthusiasm and work ethic,” he said.
Samantha Karas is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and English. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @samanthakaras for more.