In the age of the "Muslim Ban" and increased Islamophobic hate crimes, Islam is at the forefront of political discourse. Although Muslims are at the center of attention in the media, the public and even at the dinner table, they are rarely involved in these discussions. From conservatives who try to restrict Muslims from entering the United States to liberals who strive to “save” Muslim women, debates and conversations about Muslims occur regularly, but Muslims are not being invited. Islam is discussed by CNN and Fox News, who constantly perpetuate false stereotypes and homogenize Muslims. Although we like to think university campuses are a space for critical thinking and open discourse, the ideas that are pushed by the mainstream media still make their way to schools like the University of Minnesota.
On our campus, there have been several instances of Muslims being targeted. In early November 2016, the Muslim Students Association’s panel on the Washington Avenue Bridge was vandalized with “ISIS” written boldly across the Islamic calligraphy. Just a few weeks earlier, several Muslim Students were personally targeted and had their names and information posted on flyers around campus. Muslim students have reported being harassed on the streets of Stadium Village.
Many false claims about Islam made on the news and by people in positions of power are echoed on campus, having a wider impact on students pursuing ambitious careers in many diverse fields. With the constant negative stereotypes of Muslims, spectators often take these claims as the truth. With disproportionately limited access to positions in media and political power, Muslims are being told what they believe in and what their religion is.
An awareness and understanding of Islam on college campuses is necessary. With the toxic discourse and false information about Islam spreading on campus and throughout the country, Muslim students at the University have been striving to take back the narrative of their religion to narrate it themselves. For over ten years, the Al-Madinah Cultural Center and the Muslim Students Association have collaborated to host an annual Islam Awareness Week. Islam Awareness Week is organized by a committee dedicated to creating events that are geared toward educating the general student body about what Islam is and isn’t. This year, Islam Awareness Week will be from Monday, March 25 to Friday, March 30. With ten events throughout the week, this initiative is intended to bring the student body together and help correct common misconceptions that are perpetuated about Islam.
Islam Awareness Week is what this University needs during these times. With the goal of spreading peace and understanding instead of hate and ignorance, Islam Awareness Week has the opportunity to educate our student body and allow our campus to come together, unified as a whole.
This letter has been lightly edited for clarity and style.
Samia Abdi is a University of Minnesota freshman majoring in pyschology and a member of the Muslim Student Association.