Speaker series promotes Islamic awareness

Last Thursday marked the second event in a four-week long series of lectures, film screenings and open discussions held by the Muslim Students Association. Taking place in the Student Success Center’s Clary Theatre, MSA invited speakers from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta to speak with students about the topic of Islamophobia.

Students learned about a variety of topics within the Islamic religion, such as the history and reasons behind Islamophobia in society. Participants also discussed how they could address the issue.

Executive Director Soumaya Khalifa of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, a native of Egypt who was raised in Texas, and Chris Burke from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, were first on hand to talk.

The first issue that was brought up was the definition of Islamophobia, which is defined as a prejudice or discrimination against the religion of Islam or Muslims and their culture.

The stereotypical perspectives of Muslims and Islam and underlying reasons for these stereotypes were then discussed, such as the association of Muslims with a monolithic, ideologue notion that seeks the downfall of Western society. Such associations are often due to mass media portrayals of Muslims in movies or TV shows, along with highly controversial comments made by certain talkshow hosts and political leaders.

Attendees were encouraged to ask questions that they had about Islam to clarify those subjects. A point was made that education is the best way to combat prejudice of any sort.

The crowd was later separated into groups to describe other ways to fight Islamophobia. Ideas that were presented included encouraging people to interact with others outside of their comfort zone, allowing open debate, never ignoring other perspectives and a willingness to learn.

One topic of particular interest was Islamo-Facism Awareness Day, also held at Georgia Tech and sponsored by the College Republicans on campus. Opinions in the crowd, some of whom were Muslims and part of the MSA, generally ran along the lines that such events are also protected by free speech, but should be open to civil debate and questions from dissenting parties.

MSA at Tech has stated its purpose as tending to the needs of Muslim students at Tech and the community as a whole through education, as well as fostering friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Ahmed Salim, president of MSA and a native of the Kashmir region, stated that the Islamic Awareness Series is likely to continue in this four-week format to better accommodate the students and association members.

The MSA has held this event for four years now. In addition, MSA has hosted and organized other events such as Friday prayers, information tables and notably, the annual Fastathon which raises money to fight hunger and homelessness in urban areas.

Khalifa of the Islamic Speakers Bureau spoke highly of the crowd that night, regarding them as a “very intelligent, open-minded group” of people. Additionally, some of the Muslim students attending expressed that they had never experienced any instances of prejudice on Tech’s campus.

“Everyone here interacts positively on such a diverse campus, from students, to staff, to faculty,” said Musheer Ahmed, a third-year Computer Science major.

The Islamic Awareness Series is set to continue March 6th and 11th, with the last event titled “The Gospel of Jesus according to Muhammad.”

Hisham Mahmoud of Princeton University will be on hand to lecture on the Islamic perspective of Jesus’s role and story as a prophet.

For more information, search for the Islamic Awareness Series event on Facebook or visit MSA’s website at cyberbuzz.gatech.edu/msa.