CAIRO – Muslim students at prestigious Yale University have hosted the annual Islam Awareness week that turned into a bittersweet event in which they helped their colleagues to learn about Islam, though being reminded by rising anti-Muslim hate crimes.
“Islam Awareness Week this year has been bittersweet,” Elamin Elamin ’18 said in opening remarks for a “Positioning Islam Today” teach-in held Saturday, Yale Daily News reported on Monday, March 7.
“While we have enjoyed the opportunity to have events, discussions, and hand out roses … we were harshly reminded of the real, tragic impact of senseless violence that plagues the Muslim community.
“In a time when hate crimes such as violence against individuals and vandalism of mosques are the highest since 9/11, it is most pressing that we speak and learn about Islam in an open and honest way.”
Islam Awareness Week was hosted by the Muslim Students Association at Yale from February 28 to March 5.
The annual event was intended to help students learn about Islam through a series of events and campaigns that encouraged them to develop a better understanding of the religion.
According to Coordinator of Muslim Life Omer Bajwa, events were also planned to challenge Islamophobic conceptions perpetuated by the modern media.
The events of the week began with a screening of “Enemy of the Reich,” a documentary about a Muslim woman who helped fight the Nazis during World War II.
Later in the week, events included a photo campaign on Cross Campus and a Tuesday evening vigil that mourned the Indiana shooting of three Sudanese men, two of whom were practicing Muslims.
The vigil gave students a chance to see the impact of what Bajwa called “rampant and virulent Islamophobia.”
Islam Awareness Week gave Muslim students a platform through which to educate their peers about what it means to be a Muslim American in everyday life.
During Saturday’s panel, four Yale students discussed their experiences as practicing Muslims in a generally secularized institution.
“Most people who are religious are themselves and then their religion, but Muslims are expected to somehow be Muslim before that, especially for Muslim women who wear a hijab,” Mary Turfah ’16 said.
Turfah, one of the panelist, she was bothered by how, in the Yale community, her “Muslimness somehow has to come before [her] personhood.”
“Somehow, they represent this meta thing that is Islam before they are even themselves; every action they do doesn’t reflect their persons, but reflects this religion that takes up more than 2 billion people,” she said.
“Muslims need to be treated more as individuals and human beings that have personalities and differences just like anyone else, and that is not something that is difficult to do, but it seems to be more than we can ask of people.”
Toxic political rhetoric was adding to the increase of Islamophobia in the American society.
Islamophobia and “exclusionary rhetoric” in general are some of the main issues that Yale’s current students will be confronting after graduation, making education about Muslim life especially relevant, Bajwa said.
“I am very hopeful that the young generation will be able to help overcome this wave of Islamophobia,” Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of Connecticut’s Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the News after speaking during the third panel on Saturday.
“Yale is always looked at as an institution that leads in thought and action and producing leaders for this nation, and so when we come to Yale, we always have in mind that the person I’m speaking to as a student will be leading the way in a few years.
“It is extremely important that we keep this dialogue alive and it is extremely important that we hear these stories from various points of view.”