While Muslim culture might be represented in the media as analogous to a small group of extreme terrorists, in reality the religion is observed by 23 percent of the world’s population. In the United States alone, 12 million people, many of whom were born and raised in this country, identify as Muslim.
“My primary way of understanding the representation of Muslims in the media is that Islam has become synonymous with the Middle East, which is an extremely superficial, one-dimensional understanding of the religion,” said Imaani El-Burki, a professor of media studies who identifies as a Muslim-American.
Not only is this a nationwide issue, but the idea of Muslim acceptance has been brought to attention in the Lehigh Valley, as well. On Jan. 26, the Lehigh website published a statement that was created by religious leaders in the Lehigh Valley in response to rising anti-Muslim sentiment. The first affirmation of the statement read, “Muslims who live in the Lehigh Valley community as neighbors and friends have a right to live free from fear and intimidation.”
One of the main contributors to the statement was Chaplain Lloyd Steffen, who spoke about the quality of the Muslim community at Lehigh.
“Muslim culture seems to be healthy and robust,” Steffen said. He said students come to the Muslim prayer room in the Dialogue Center every day and do their daily prayers. According to Steffen, Muslims are finding a way to continue to worship and perform their religion amid American society and amid the demands of Lehigh.
Zakaria Hsain, ’17, president of the Muslim Student Association, is actively involved in the Muslim community at Lehigh. He said he feels that there are adequate means to pray and keep Halal, the dietary restrictions of Islam.
“Sometimes there are instances, such as girls with the hijab, where someone may encounter harassment, but that is very rare,” Hsain said. “Overall, the environment is very positive and very accepting to people of different faiths and diversity on campus.”
However, there is always room for improvement. Hsain also said he would like to see more Halal meals at Lower Court, as well as more convenient prayer rooms for times such as finals, when he has to walk across campus for a short prayer.
Steffen recognized the need to improve religious life on campus.
“The attempt here is to see what can we work out, what is reasonable to work out, and what we can do to continue to show that we are trying to be hospitable towards religious folks at Lehigh,” Steffen said.
In order to make people more aware of Islam and the traditions of the Muslim community, the Muslim Student Association puts on a variety of events and invites people of all faiths to attend.
“(The Muslim Student Association’s) role is to make Muslims feel at home and creating that environment that is conducive to the practice of Islam,” Hsain said. “Sharing Islam with other people and helping them understand Islam, especially with what we see in the media right now – so much hate and so much bigotry.”
The Muslim Student Association also puts on a variety of events such as Discover Islam Week in April; Halaqah, a circle of study; and a 5×10 event about Islam and Science. All of these events aim to encourage the community to become more involved in and informed about Muslim culture.