April 22, 2019 | 59° F

Islam Awareness Week at Rutgers highlights the best of Islam with dialogue on what it means to be Muslim

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Islam Awareness Week is a yearly event at Rutgers and has been for more than a decade with the goal of promoting an understanding of Islam and debunking stereotypes that it embodies a certain ethnicity. It is hosted by the Rutgers University Muslim Student Association. 

A range of activities, an assortment of cultural food and an array of colorful hijabs took to the College Avenue campus during this year's Islam Awareness Week (IAW) at Rutgers. 

The week long event included tug-of-war, water balloon competitions, informative Muslim speakers, free henna tattoos, calligraphy writing, peanut butter and jelly sandwich making for the homeless and the opportunity to try on a hijab — all hosted by the Rutgers University Muslim Student Association

The large tent next to Brower Commons encompassed several booths that engaged and educated students about the Muslim religion. One booth titled “Islamic Jeopardy Education” had a poster board with questions and answers about Islam that aimed to debunk myths and stereotypes about the religion, said Arshad Vohra, a School of Engineering first-year and an organizer of the event. 

“Are men superior to women in Islam?” one question read. “No, they are both the same in the eyes of God. They both have the same spirit ... What matters is righteousness,” the answer read.

Another card read, “Why do Muslim women wear hijabs?” The answer said, “Modesty, God asks us to, highest form of feminism — covering outside so people see what’s inside first. Mary also wore a veil.”

The point of the event was to encourage people to understand what being a Muslim is all about, to meet a Muslim and have an educational conversation with them and disproving stereotypes, Vohra said. 

“IAW is an outlet for us Muslims to clear up a lot of misconceptions about Muslims, about Islam, that they get from the media, that they get from not reliable sources. This (event) is the best type of way to get information about Muslims and about Islam,” he said. 

One of the misconceptions and confusion is about the words “Islam” and “Arab,” he said. 

Vohra explained that a lot of people confuse the religion of Islam with the culture of countries that Islam is practiced in. 

“One misconception that people have is that Islam is a cultural thing. You can be a Muslim from anywhere around the world. A Muslim is not an Arab, a Muslim is not brown, a Muslim doesn’t have a skin color. A Muslim is just a Muslim,” he said. 

Waleed Tariq, a School of Arts and Sciences first year and the programming head of the event, said that IAW has been occurring annually for more than 10 years and is an opportunity for others to experience other cultures and dip their toes in fun traditions like getting a henna tattoo. 

“It’s a platform to show who we are, what we do, what traditions we follow, stuff like that,” he said. 

Nada Mohamed, a School of Engineering sophomore and a member of the programming team was the henna artist for the week. 

She said that students who attended and got henna tattoos were very curious about the event. 

“People actually want to learn about Islam. People are asking me questions while getting henna. People are really interested ... At this time, a lot of people get the wrong idea about Islam and there’s a lot of Islamophobia and people should come and learn what we’re actually about and not like what the media portrays. If you have any questions (about Islam), this is the perfect chance to ask,” she said. 

During the five days of the event, there have been a midday activity everyday, like egg races and open mics, Tariq said. A chosen speaker gives a talk every night on a different topic about Islam. 

A previous speech was about the virtues of good character, while Thursday night’s was about the roles of revelations, given by Kaiser Aslam, the Muslim Chaplain at Rutgers. 

“He’s one of our prized possessions as a community. He’s extremely knowledgeable. He’s an amazing person and he’s easy to talk to,” Vohra said about Aslam. 

Aslam talked about revelations. As he explained, it is defined as what it takes to become a Muslim and to accept God. 

As the sun set, Vohra walked to the podium and sang the Muslim call of prayer — a prayer that signals Muslims to start their daily prayers which occur five times a day. 

Students gathered under the tent and prayed together in Arabic. 

As IAW winds down, Vohra said he is already looking forward to next year’s event and hopes to educate more of the Rutgers student body about Islam, especially amid today’s political climate. 

“A lot of the misconceptions about Islam were lowkey (in previous years) ... People had these thoughts and these ideas of Islam, but it was kind of taboo to talk about it. But now we have such outspoken people in leadership positions who are just wrong. And that’s a dangerous thing. To have people who are very powerful but also very wrong,” he said. 

Tariq agreed that, especially in recent years, people hold misconceptions about Islam. 

“That’s why it’s so important to spread the real message of Islam and to show everybody who Muslims really are, what Islam really is because, now more than ever, people believe something that just isn’t correct,” Tariq said.

Erica D'Costa

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