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Islam Awareness Week addresses misunderstandings about faith

Imam Shaker Elsayed of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va., spoke to students during the "Ice Cream with an Imam" event Thursday in the Marvin Center as part of Islam Awareness Week. Photo by Hatchet Photographer Becky Crowder


This post was written by Hatchet reporter Clara Pak

The Muslim Students’ Association hosted a series of events last week focused on promoting the understanding of the Islamic faith, as well as different aspects of Islam, as part of Islam Awareness Week.

On Tuesday evening the group held an event called “Jesus and Islam,” focusing on the Islamic relationship with Jesus, a main figure of the Christian faith.

Zia Makhdoom, the imam, or religious leader, of Mustafa Center in Annandale, Va., lectured on the role of Jesus in Islam.

“You cannot be a Muslim if you don’t believe in Jesus,” he said. “[Christians and Muslims] just differ in what we fundamentally believe him to be.”

Makhdoom said Islam has the most in common with Christianity than any other religion, and that primarily has to do with Jesus, who brings the two religions together.

The Quran describes Jesus as a prophet close to God, he said.

“Jesus is one of the most beloved prophets in Islam, which is not a well-known fact,” Zahin Hasan, president of MSA, explained via e-mail. “So, in a sense, we included this event because we knew it would pique everyone’s interests, as well as accomplish our goals for Islam Awareness Week”

Though MSA sought to inform the community about Islam, the imam encouraged Muslim students to learn more about other religions too.

“These days, I see Muslims trying to spread awareness about our religion, to clear up misunderstandings. But we need to learn about Christianity, Judaism, and other religions and from sources not our own,” Makhdoom said.

Tuesday night’s audience of about 25 students had an even mix of Muslims and non-Muslims.

Other events during the week included a discussion about women’s rights in Islam, a film screening of the documentary, “30 Days as a Muslim,” and a night of spiritually-inspired acoustic music, hip-hop and poetry with the Poetic Vision Tour.

Sophomore Ellen Nadeau, who doesn’t identify as a Muslim, attended the Poetic Vision Tour event Friday night.

“Before coming to GW, I didn’t know much about Islam, but because of my roommate and friends who are part of MSA, I have learned so much,” Nadeau said. “I go to almost all the events.”

Despite recent unrest in countries like Egypt, Yemen and Libya, where a majority of the population practices Islam, and even controversies over the faith in the U.S., the programming wasn’t prompted by one particular event.

Still, Mohammad Zaman, MSA’s general secretary, said the week may be particularly helpful in this sensitive time.

“The heightened political climate in the news and in the country due to controversies like the Florida pastor threatening to burn Qurans and Park51 seems to have made a bigger confusion of what Islam really is about, especially for those who don’t know,” Zaman said.

Last summer, Park51, a proposed Islamic community center set to be built two blocks from the World Trade Center site, sparked controversy. Those opposed to the center believed a Muslim building so close to Ground Zero would be offensive to those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks led by terrorists who practiced Islam.

Zaman said MSA wanted to use the week to target ignorance and misunderstandings about Islam.

“If we can dispel some of that, this week would be successful,” he said.

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