During Discover Islam Week — which took place on campus from April 22-28, daily events were held to help bring together Lehigh’s Muslim community, as well as to engage members of the faith with non-Muslim students.
The events were organized by the Muslim Students Association, and sponsored by the Saudi Students Association, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Chaplain’s Office.
Many of the events were focused around open-forum discussions about Islam. One of the events, which took place on April 28 in the University Center, mainly focused on Muslim stereotypes. Common misconceptions about the religion include the ideas that all Muslims are Arabs, that Islam is not a peaceful religion, that jihad means war or that women do not have rights. Although this is false information, many of these topics are misunderstood.
Zakaria Hsain, ’17, the president of the Muslim Students Association, participated in the discussion-based event on April 28. He emphasized the importance of encouraging people to participate in the events, given that Islam Discover Week is one of the club’s biggest events.
“It is a big opportunity to reach out to a wide variety of people on campus,” Hsain said. “If you don’t get that exposure when you come to college, when are you going to get it?”
Lloyd Steffen, the university chaplain, shined some light on the lack of knowledge about Islam. In an email, he wrote it is crucial to educate people about Islam and what the religion stands for.
Steffen said the religion is not known by many in America, which can lead to the formation of negative stereotypes, such as those that have been perpetuated in the presidential campaign and made their way into Americans’ conversations. He wrote this has not been our best moment as a nation.
“It is important to confront and oppose stereotypes and untruth, and the effort on campus to do this, as the organizers of Islam Discovery Week have done, is exactly the kind of positive response we should expect here in our university,” Steffen wrote.
The best way to confront and eliminate stereotypes is to educate people about the religion. There are numerous religion studies courses are offered at Lehigh that offer insight about Islam. Steffen encourages students to take classes about different religions, read books and accept invitations to open events around campus, which are sponsored by clubs like MSA.
“It will be hard for business people and engineers who are going to work in a global environment to work well without knowledge of Islam, which is the fastest-growing religion in the world,” Steffen wrote.
Zara Ahmad, ’16, the former president of MSA, was also in attendance at the discussion on April 28. She talked about the small size of the club, as well as the lack of exposure to Islam on campus. A goal of their community is to put themselves out there and show the world that Islam isn’t what the media portrays it to be, she said.
“This week is about discovering what Islam is, and to go a step further, it is about discovering there (is) Islam here on campus,” Ahmad said.
At the end of the day, the only way things can change is if both students and faculty are open to learning about something new, Ahmad said. Islam is the second largest religion in the world, and the fastest growing one.
“We have to show people that mainstream media knows nothing,” Hsain said. “We are Muslims and if you want to know more, come talk to us.”