Islam Cultural Awareness Week

By this point in the year most U of M students are probably so full of information from their various classes and the deluge of prior “Awareness Weeks” that the thought of attending any of the events in the Al-Madinah Cultural Center’s Islam Awareness Week probably seems like a chore, which is an utter shame considering that if there’s one culture the average American is woefully ignorant about, it would probably be Islam.

“The idea is to bring about awareness and give students a public face of Islam, rather than the negative portrayal they often see in the media,” Mohammed Hanif, the vice president of Al-Madinah says. Blame can reside with the mainstream media for a distinct lack of nuance in its coverage of Muslims or a variety of other parties, but the fact of the matter is that most Americans just don’t see much of the human face of Islam, which is something that Hanif and the Al-Madinah Cultural Center are actively working to change. According to Hanif, the event was a smashing success.

Islam Awareness Week featured a variety of events, mostly lectures and panel discussions based around key facets of Islam as well as current events in the Islamic world. Monday featured a lecture on the influential teachings of the Prophet Muhammed as well as a documentary film on the rise of Islam. Lectures on Islam’s contribution to the scientific community and medical ethics in Islam took place on Tuesday. Wednesday saw what Hanif claims to be the one most successful event of the week: an activity on the lawns of Coffman that allowed non-muslim women the chance to wear a hijab (traditional headscarf) for a day. “The hijab and niqab [facial veil] are the most obvious sign that a person is a Muslim,” says Hanif, “Muslim men are able to blend in easier in America since they don’t have to wear it, this activity let non-Muslim women experience the immediate identification that comes with wearing the hijab.”

Hanif cites Thursday’s lecture and discussion on Women in Islam as another popular event. “Our women in Islam event had our best turnout, it’s always a big topic for students,” he says. The often misunderstood and complex issue of women’s role in what, to an outsider, might appear to be an oppressive religion is exactly the kind of gray area Islam Cultural Awareness week seeks to shed light on. Thursday’s other event, a lecture titled “Does Islam Guarantee Human Rights?” also took a loaded topic head on. The week wrapped up with entertainment from local artists and members of Al-Madinah.

Hanif hopes that if U of M students took only one thing away from the week, it would be a better understanding of what Islam actually is, rather than the image American media has created for it. He encourages curious people to “go to the texts” and read the Qur’an for themselves rather than have a third party interpret it for them. Without bandying about clichés like “global citizen,” campaigns like Islam Cultural Awareness Week enrich the U of M, shedding insight and allowing students to have a personal connection with a culture most of us don’t fully understand.