Part of a college education is learning more about the world around you — and sometimes that starts with just getting to know the people around you. In an effort to bring about more understanding on the Mary Baldwin campus, students have organized Islam Awareness Week, January 24–28.
“This is an opportunity for the campus and local community to hear and witness a broad spectrum of Muslim voices — from MBC students, an alum, Fulbright scholars, and even a speaker who deals with Muslim issues at a national level,” said senior Logan Dill. “Our hope is that everyone who participates can learn something new about this vibrant faith tradition and the positive role it plays on our campus and in the world.”
Dill and Nusayba Hammad ’13 led a small group of students who generated the idea for observing Islam Awareness Week on campus and who worked through winter break to make it happen. They are supported by the Spencer Center, the Quest program, and the college’s department of philosophy and religion.
“Being on a campus that is becoming increasingly diverse is a great thing, but engaging with each other to share our beliefs, backgrounds, and opinions is the larger goal,” said Heather Ward, director of international programs at MBC. “These students and others like them realize that is what brings us closer to being a truly inclusive community.”
And even within an increasingly diverse community, there is still room for education. Hammad said there have been instances where Muslim students have found themselves in uncomfortable situations because of misunderstandings about their religion.
“The best way to address such misunderstandings is to share accurate information and provide a safe environment for open discussion,” Hammad said.
Students planned film discussions and organized a prayer session. They selected speakers including MBC alumna Janaan Hashim ’89 and Nihad Awad, who is executive director and co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). That organization is featured frequently in reports on high-profile national issues for The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, and other major media outlets. Hashim was also involved in the creation of CAIR, the largest Muslim civil liberties advocacy organization in the United States.
Events planned for the week also draw on the personal experiences of people in the MBC community. Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Nourhan El Koptan of Egypt will join several Muslim students in a mid-week panel, and Egyptian Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Naeema Abdel Gawad will lead a viewing and discussion of the film Hassan and Morqos.
“We hope to raise awareness of the ‘real’ Islam on campus as it is understood and lived by over a billion Muslim people and help dispel misconceptions and stereotypes that are so quickly and unfortunately believed,” Hammad said.
Student organizers are hopeful that learning more about the world’s second-largest religion can become an annual observance at the college.
“There is so much that we will not be able to cover in one week, so I think there is certainly enough to make this annual event,” Dill said. “This week will hopefully spark interest on campus for more faith events on our campus, which already encourages and supports interfaith dialogue in so many ways.”
Schedule of Events for Islam Awareness Week
Thursday, January 20
Preview Event: 20,000 Dialogues
Screening of the film, What a Billion Muslims Really Think followed by discussion.
7 p.m., Spencer Center
Monday, January 24
Muslims, America, and Me
MBC alumna Janaan Hashim ’89 kicks off the week with a talk about the Muslim experience in America.
8 p.m., Francis Auditorium
Tuesday, January 25
Being Muslim in the U.S. and at Mary Baldwin College
Hear from a student panel featuring Hawa Omar, Nourhan El Koptan, Selma Elsarrag, and Asma Shethwala.
8 p.m., Spencer Center
Wednesday, January 26
International Cafe: The Muslim Woman’s Dress Code
A dialogue with Nourhan El Koptan
Noon, Spencer Center
Islam Exposed: The Non-Hollywood Version
Nihad Awad, executive director and co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations delivers the keynote.
8 p.m., Francis Auditorium
Thursday, January 27
Dinner featuring cuisine from the Muslim world.
5:30 p.m., Hunt Dining Hall
Hassan and Morqos
This film starring Academy Award nominated actor, Omar Sharif, looks at the relationship that develops between a Christian priest and a Muslim preacher after they survive separate assassination attempts.
7 p.m., Hunt Dining Hall
Friday, January 28
Open prayer service
1 to 4 p.m., Miller Chapel