Originally published Feb. 8, 2012

In an attempt to promote inclusiveness and understanding of the Islamic culture in the U.S., the Muslim Student Association of Grand Valley State University is sponsoring its fourth annual Islamic Awareness Week from Monday to Feb. 17.

Each day, a speaker will present on various aspects of the Islamic faith and traditions.

MSA officer Mohammed Ghannam said between 50 and 150 people attended the events each day last year, and the group is expecting the same amount, if not more, this year. Every event is LIB 100 and US 201 approved.

“We need our faculty and students to enhance their perspective on Islam,” Ghannam said, adding that most Americans associate Islam with terrorism and that the group is aiming to correct the misconception. “We’re Muslims. We’re living here in the U.S. We’re not extremists.”

Ghannam said the MSA of GVSU hopes to promote understanding of Islam on a national scale but is starting its mission locally.

“We want to do our part (and) be proactive as Muslims on campus to correct the vision of Islam.”

Middle Eastern Studies professor Gamal Gasim said Islamic Awareness Week helps in “enhancing the mission of Grand Valley to reach out to all people.”

Gasim said, in many cases, Americans view Muslims with an “us versus them” mentality, which has been the plight of many minority groups in American history. However, many Muslims are patriotic Americans, he said.

“Muslims are part of America’s society,” he said. “We are Americans. Muslims feel like they are in defense and they need to explain that they are Americans and they love their country.”

Gasim said Muslims are trying to overcome general misconceptions and negative portrayals in the media and popular culture to become recognized as full-fledged Americans.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about Islam and Muslims in general,” Gasim said. “(People think) Islam is a religion that promotes violence, that Islam is equal to terrorism, that you can’t be Muslim and American.”

Ghannam agreed that this thought is prevalent in the U.S. He said he hopes to “show people that you can be Muslim and you can be American. You can lead a normal, successful, happy life.”

Gasim called the American attitude toward Muslims “Islamophobia,” or what he said is “the fear that Muslims are here to dominate America or promote sharia law.”

The professor said one of the underlying problems is the tendency for Americans to emphasize differences rather than similarities.

“You rarely hear people talk about the common grounds that people have with Muslims,” he said. “We don’t talk about the things that bring people together. We usually talk about the things that divide people. Islamic Awareness and weeks like this and events like this are really good opportunities for our students here, for our faculty, for our GVSU people to learn more about Islam and also to learn about their fellow Americans who share with them the love of this country and the belonging to this country, too.”

Ghannam said the MSA of GVSU has about 45 to 50 members on the roster, but he said the Muslim population is greater than the numbers reflect.

For more information on the Islamic community at GVSU, visit the Muslim Student Association page on http://www.gvsu.com/stuey.

 

Original publication: http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2012/02/msa_hosts_islamic_awareness_week

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