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UNM Students ask questions about Islam during Islam Awareness Week organized by MSU. The stand will be in Zimmerman Plaza through Friday.
UNM Students ask questions about Islam during Islam Awareness Week organized by MSU. The stand will be in Zimmerman Plaza through Friday.

Awareness week combats adverse views of Muslims

Event coordinator Masood Mirza, a sophomore chemistry major, said the main goal is to make people conscious of Islam, and to show them that it is alive and well in America.

“I feel like many people at UNM don’t know that we exist. There are Muslims on this campus, we’re present and we just want to make people aware that we’re here,” he said.

To meet that end, the association is handing out free Qurans as well as pamphlets with information about Islamic beliefs and culture. Anyone is invited to visit their tent to learn more about their faith. The group is set up today until 5 p.m. on the east side of the SUB.

Although the Associated Students of UNM recently came under fire with criticism over their anti-Islamophobia resolution, event organizers said that the timing is purely coincidental.

“I just want everyone to know that there are Muslims at UNM, we’re really good people, we’re your peers. We want to create as healthy of a student environment as possible. We just happen to be Muslim and practicing a different religion. We’re all one, we’re all humans, so let’s all be peaceful with one another,” Mirza said.

Mirza said that the media’s negative portrayal of Islam puts himself and fellow Muslims at an disadvantage.

“Not to say the media is necessarily evil — the media can be very good. But it’s a fact that it drives us in a certain direction, and we’ve been portrayed very poorly over the past few years,” he said.

Rehab Kassem, a senior biochemistry major and one of the event’s organizers, said that people shouldn’t take what media networks like CNN and Fox News say about Muslims as the truth. She emphasized the importance of asking a Muslim instead, and Islamic Awareness Week allows students to do just that.

“Even if we can change one person’s opinion, a negative opinion about Islam, I feel like that’s a good thing,” she said.

However common those opinions may be, Mirza said he was pleasantly surprised by the way in which visitors have conducted themselves. He said that the only people he has encountered who were not interested in civilized discussion are those who only seek to criticize Islam.

Mirza attributed students’ understanding and cordiality to the richness of diversity present on campus.

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“I’m actually impressed, to be honest,” he said. “We are really lucky at UNM because we have always been diverse. We’re not an all-white campus, we’re not an all-black campus. Everybody is here, and I think that’s a big reason why most people that have come up to us have been asking really good questions.”

The association is hosting interactive events every day this week to educate students about Islam. This evening’s event is a “Fast-a-thon” from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Stamm Room in the Centennial Engineering Center. Mirza said he hopes the event will allow attendees to experience one of the five pillars of Islam.

“The Muslim Student Association will be fasting that day, and we’re inviting other students to fast with us, even if it’s just for half a day. We’ll [also] be giving a short lecture about charity and fasting in Islam,” he said.

To finish off Islamic Awareness Week on Friday, the Muslim Student Association is inviting anyone interested to go to prayer at the Islamic Center of New Mexico. Mirza said there will be chairs set up for those who don’t practice Islam, and emphasized that going to the center lets people see the faith being practiced firsthand.

“We’re not trying to hide from anybody. I think it’s really, really important for people to go learn from the place itself,” he said. “The Islamic Center of New Mexico is, in my opinion, since it’s local, the best place to start.”

Kassem said there is too much of a physical and philosophical separation between Muslims and non-Muslims, largely fueled by a lack of understanding. She said that gap starts to close when there is a healthy dialogue.

“If you see a Muslim, go up to them and ask them. Even if you ask what might be a controversial question, I’m sure they’d be more happy that you asked them rather than going to listen to (the media),” she said.

David Lynch is a staff reporter at The Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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