Muslim Student Association organizes week-long event to increase cultural awareness at Rutgers
Every spring at Rutgers, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) hosts Islam Awareness week to engage with the larger Rutgers community and educate people about the Islamic religion and culture.
The event is held this week in a large tent outside of Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus and will continue until Friday.
This year, Islam Awareness Week was organized by School of Arts and Sciences seniors Hadear Seliman and Reshma Vohra, and School of Arts and Sciences junior Habibah Arshad.
“There are so many misconceptions, especially nowadays, in the media or anywhere else, about Islam and what it's portrayed as,” Seliman said. “This tent is a forum to have discussions with other people about this religion — what we follow, who we follow, what we do in terms of worship. Every aspect of being a Muslim. And that's what we want to make people aware of.”
In the tent, there are kiosks with activities that highlight different aspects of Islamic culture. These include a henna tattoo table and various food and art tables.
There is a Quran listening table, where people may hear passages from the Quran recited aloud. At the end of the tent is a table where people may write their reflections about the event on index cards and post them on a bulletin board.
During the day there are activities like trivia games, relay races and open mic shows.
At night, before dinner is served, a guest speaker focuses on an aspect of the Islamic religion, which Vohra said is not always directed exclusively at Muslims. Given the event's open-air location, anyone who is walking by can join and listen.
“Especially in today's political climate, a lot of people have misconceptions. Whether it's due to the media, or the way they hear things, a lot of people have misconceptions and it is scary for a lot of Muslims that people sometimes don't understand our religion and misconstrue certain things about our faith,” Vohra said. “So this year more than ever I think it's really important that we educate our community. Not only is that a way to help them understand us better, but for us to feel like we are less marginalized and part of the community at Rutgers.”
Seliman said common misconceptions about the culture comes from people's ignorance regarding Islamic principles — the most prevalent of these misconceptions are that Islam is a violent and misogynistic religion.
Vohra said that because one of the main goals of the event is to dispel misconceptions surrounding Islam, the organizers welcome questions.
“Rather than focusing on everything, we just try to educate people,” Vohra said. “Rather than going after one or two different points, if we just are who we are as Muslims and people are able to engage with us and have friendly conversations and hang out with us, then slowly but surely those misconceptions, even if they're not directly addressed, will disappear.”
Islam Awareness Week is not just about spreading awareness among non-Muslims, but also about giving Rutgers' Muslim students an opportunity to learn more about their religion. Arshad said that for many Muslim students, Islam Awareness Week and MSA help them to reconnect with their religion alongside a community of like-minded people.
To that end, the activities at Islam Awareness Week are aimed at Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The nightly talks are religious but are on topics that non-Muslims may understand, Vohra said.
“This is also about awareness for ourselves,” Arshad said. “To be more aware of the Rutgers community, and a chance to engage with the community.”
Seliman said that although most of the visitors to the tent are Muslim, there have been many non-Muslim visitors as well.
“We want people to come enjoy the free food, play the activities, learn more about Islam,” Seliman said. “That's all we ask. Just for people to come and learn and ask us questions because we're very very open to questions. Listen to our speaker, and come and have free dinner.”
Max Marcus is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.