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‘Faith,’ ‘Fear,’ and ‘Freedom’ headline UMaine’s Islamic Awareness Week

Quranic scholar and Muslim American speaker Nouman Ali Khan speaks at the Islamic Center of Maine for their seventh annual open house as part of Islamic Awareness Week. Photo by Sze Wing Wong, Contributor.
Quranic scholar and Muslim American speaker Nouman Ali Khan speaks at the Islamic Center of Maine for their seventh annual open house as part of Islamic Awareness Week. Photo by Sze Wing Wong, Contributor.

The world celebrated Islamic Awareness Week last week, an annual tradition to extend outreach to those willing to learn more about Islam.

Students across the United States used the week to spread awareness about Islam by holding Friday prayers, classes to learn about Muhammad and the Quran and a variety of other events.

The University of Maine’s Muslim Students Association (MSA) also participated by hosting activities at their table in the Memorial Union. Activities included name writing in Arabic, hijab wrapping, henna tattoos and an Islamic version of the popular television game show “Jeopardy.” They tabled there Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“People have the misconception that Islam is a violent religion,” Hina Hashmi, molecular and biological sciences lab manager and the MSA advisor, said. Hashmi graduated from UMaine in 2015 with a degree in microbiology.

At the start, the MSA celebrated Islamic awareness by holding events on one weekend and calling it ‘Islamic Awareness Weekend.’ It has since evolved into a weeklong affair.

The MSA held a lecture in the Bangor Room of the Memorial Union on Saturday, April 1 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The dinner featured a lecture titled “The Message of Peace: Spread by the Sword?” by Dr. Jonathan Brown, an American scholar of Islamic studies and an associate professor at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in Washington D.C. He is also the editor-in-chief of Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Law.

“Islam is a religion, but we also talk about Islam as a civilization,” Brown said.

Brown spoke about those in Islam who participate in terrorist activities — a discussion that comes amid recent terror events in Brussels, Belgium and Lahore, Pakistan — and how those people do not represent the true nature of Islam.

“This is not a religion spread by the sword,” Brown said. “All Muslim scholars I know — across the board — reject ISIS.”

One of Brown’s topics of discussion was “Islamic vs. Islamicate.” Islamicate is defined as a phenomena where people of Islam live in a region that is dominated by the religion, but do not necessarily participate in all Islamic practices or maintain all Islamic beliefs. An example used by Brown was that if a Muslim drinks alcohol, which violates their beliefs, it does not mean they are “not Muslim.” According to Brown, it just means they would be considered “a bad Muslim.”

Around 120 people attended the event, including students, faculty and adults from the community.

“This is a wonderful way to celebrate Islam in America,” Dean of Students Dr. Robert Dana said. “We must say no to the horrors that are evolving around us.” Dana also stated that nearly 1,000 Muslims live in the Orono area and that that number is growing.

Dana introduced his own feelings about those who do participate in terrorism activities, saying that it does not involve “any intellectual discussion,” and addressed the events as “fear-mongering.”

“One day the light will shine down and some of these obscenities will disappear,” Dana said.

Islamic Awareness Week at UMaine was put on in conjunction with the Honors College, who spent the week studying Islamic law, history and culture.

“There is no more important text that our students encounter than the Quran,” Civilizations preceptor and Associate Dean of the Honors College, Dr. Melissa Ladenheim, said.

The Honors College has been vital to the success and outreach of Islamic Awareness Week at UMaine, according to MSA President and first-year biochemistry and cellular molecular biology student Mohammad Hashmi.

MSA member and third-year elementary education student Kelly Berglund shared her story about converting to Islam at the event. Berglund was born into a conservative family and grew up with belief that Islam causes terrorism. Her beliefs changed after she met a Muslim student at a party and discovered that Muslims believe in the same prophets as Christians. She then visited the Islamic Center of Maine, a mosque and community center located on Park Street in Orono, on a class trip. She began watching videos about Islam and realized that the idea of converting “had become less and less crazy to me,” she said. Berglund decided to convert to Islam after a study abroad trip to France, a region well-known for prejudice against Muslims.

“I decided I was going to convert to Islam because I believed in it. I decided I would fight the stereotypes,” Berglund said.

On Saturday, April 2, renowned Quranic scholar and Muslim American speaker Nouman Ali Khan came to speak at the Islamic Center of Maine for their seventh annual open house. His lecture was titled “Cooperate in Matters of Goodness.” Khan is also the founder and CEO of Bayyinah Institute, an educational institution based in the United States that specializes in Arabic studies, according to his Facebook page.

According to his Facebook Page, Khan began his education in Arabic in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and then in Pakistan. In 1999, he began serious Arabic training in the U.S. and has since been teaching Modern Standard and Classical Arabic. Much of his teachings about Islam happen through video speeches, although he frequently speaks at Islamic Center of North America conventions.

The event included a “Taste of the World” reception, where participants were invited to eat different foods from countries around the world.

The Islamic Center of Maine conducts Halaqa, a religious meeting concerned with the study of Islam, from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m on Fridays and Sunday School weekly from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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