Tag Archives: Muslim Student Association

Students Examine History and Evolution of Black Muslims

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Written by Rita McNeil and Sarah Rewers

The USF student body is composed of nearly 10,000 students from about 80 countries around the world. Despite the vast diversity, many students often find their ethnic identity lost in a sea of culture. The USF Muslim Student Association (MSA) sought to help fellow students of all backgrounds conceptualize the history of black Muslims by hosting a discussion on their presence in Western society last Wednesday.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Muslim religion, the concept of black Muslims may be somewhat vague. “We have to understand race as a social construct before we can understand the concept of a black Muslim,” said Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, professor of Islamic Law and Hadith Science at Zaytuna College in Berkeley. Ali argued that race is a societal development rather than a biological fact, which speaks to the notion that Muslims are not solely tied to the religion of Islam, but can be defined based on a number of  factors —  some not so good.

According to Ali, Westerners often view Muslims and associate them with violence, which is in large part due to the events surrounding the 9/11 attack. In addition, these incorrect stereotypes are bolstered perhaps due to the pre-Islamic period when Arabs came in contact with Africans. When Africans were brought to the Americas as slaves, not everyone could differentiate them from Muslims who lived in Africa, so they were almost considered one in the same. Ali also said that being black and Muslim in America can be challenging to understand historically because their history is “still being written.”

The MSA hosted this event in honor of Islam Awareness Week, which was March 11-17, and in hopes of clearing some of the misconceptions that surround the Muslim race.

Ali commented that the concept was a controversy in and of itself, due to the implication of the term, “black Muslim.” One can obviously be black and not Muslim, and vice versa, he explained. Ali also analyzed the word “Arab,” noting that to simply define it as ‘one who speaks Arabic’ has had major implications on what it means to be Arab today. “Anyone can become an Arab, but not just anyone can become a White,” he said, touching on his belief that society is divided by race. Questions on this concept are difficult to answer because various members of society have differing views.

However, USF students appear to care less about the answers, and more about getting these questions out into the public discourse. Sara Masoud, a junior international studies major, spoke to the importance of bringing topics like race, language, and culture into consciousness. “Islam Awareness Week is a way to spread awareness about the religion because it is so misunderstood, especially post 9/11,” she said. Masoud added that for Muslims on campus, “It’s a great way for them to learn more about their own religion.”

“I am appreciative for the MSA and all the hard work they are doing for Islam Awareness Week because it’s always important to educate the student body on different cultures present on the USF campus,” said Sophia Revelli, a junior communications studies major who is learning about Muslim culture.

Ali took the rest of the night to provide a historical context, from the very beginning of free life for immigrants with the Naturalization Act of 1790 to the construction of a United Nation of Islam in 1993. He also identified prominent figures in the history of African Americans, including Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., who both supported and practiced social integration. Before Ali joined fellow Muslims in the room for evening prayer, he concluded by stating that all of this history — along with the way society views and defines certain races — reinforces the belief that “race is not just a conception; it is also a perception.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the Islam religion or the history of Muslims, consider signing up for one of these classes this fall semester: Introduction to Islam (Theology) offered 3:30-4:35 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; or Islam-ic Empires (History) 6:30-8:15 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.

Use of Hijab Dress Code Explained During Islam Awareness Week

The Muslim Student Association presented its second annual Islam Awareness Week last week. Among the events which included an art exhibition on famous Muslims, a lecture on Shariah Law (the moral and religious law of Islam) and stand-up comedy about Muslim stereotypes, was a lecture on reasons for why Muslim women wear the hijab, modest attire and head scarf.

Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations in San Francisco (CAIR-SFBA), spoke about the history of the Islamic faith, the equality of gender in Islam, the role of women and the use of the hijab.
“A lot of times we tend to hear that they must hide their sexuality for men, hide their bodies. I don’t think it is necessary to hide myself from men, because I don’t believe men are out to get me,” joked Billoo.

Wearing a brown hijab that covered her hair and neck, along with a simple long-sleeve black shirt and black pants, Billoo said there were two reasons why women wear the hijab. The first is that modesty is a commandment from God. The other is because the use of the scarf and conservative attire identifies women as practitioners of Islam. This is something believed to have been encouraged by the main prophet of the Islam religion, Mohammed.

“One of the teachings of the Prophet was that the women in his community would dress this way so that they would be made distinct, so other people would know they are Muslim women,” Billoo said.

She added that a lot of modern Muslim women also wear the hijab as a way of stating they want to be judged for their opinions, not their appearance. Both men and women are required to dress modestly, but women usually have specific rules. Billoo said the majority of Muslims believe women should cover everything except their hands, face and feet, but there are variations. Some people believe they should also cover their faces and wear clothes that don’t show the shapes of their bodies. Others say women should dress modestly but don’t believe in specific requirements.

Rabell Afridi, president of the Muslim Student Association, said she does not wear the hijab because she doesn’t feel she is ready to make a commitment of practicing religious rules of attire unto God. Her parents are from Pakistan and her mom wears the hijab, but she never forced her daughter to do the same.

“I have started thinking about it, and I’ve become more comfortable with the idea, so maybe after I graduate I’ll start wearing it. I’m waiting for the right moment, when my intentions about religion are clear,” she explained.

Billoo said that according to the Qur’an, God judges everyone as equal. It is believed the Prophet Mohammed also believed in the equality of gender. Yet, Billoo added that Adam and Eve are perceived to have been created as individuals with different qualities that complemented each other.

“Men and women are equal, but in The Muslim Student Association presented its second annual Islam Awareness Week last week. Among the events which included an art exhibition on famous Muslims, a lecture on Shariah Law (the moral and religious law of Islam) and stand-up comedy about Muslim stereotypes, was a lecture on reasons for why Muslim women wear the hijab, modest attire and head scarf.

Professors and Students Talk Egypt at USF Teach-In

It has been dubbed the “18-Day Revolution,” the internationally acclaimed movement that saw millions of Egyptian organizers end the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak.

“This story on Egypt, more Americans are following this than any international event not directly involving the United States in history. It really has struck a cord—really inspired people,” said Politics Professor Stephen Zunes at a teach-in event held last Monday.

To educate the community about how and why Egypt’s uprising took place, USF’s Muslim Association and YALLA! Students in Solidarity organized a three-hour event called “Egypt’s Uprising: To and From Liberation Square.”

The teach-in featured a panel of four USF professors and skype interviews of outside guests who partook in Egypt’s uprising firsthand. Topics ranged from the influence of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East to the roles of youth and social media, and a historical breakdown leading up to the uprising.

Protests emerged in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities from Jan. 25 to Feb. 11 as a result of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship in restricting free speech and free elections (next in line for the presidency was Mubarak’s son), high unemployment rates including university graduates, and the emergency law that extended police powers and denied constitutional rights.

Boston University graduate Zane Ahmadein, who lives in Egypt, shared his experience in the demonstrations. Ahmadein said he became involved after friends described to him the situation of the Jan. 25 revolts, and influenced by his instincts of right and wrong, he began demonstrating the next day.

Within moments of stepping into the demonstration on Jan. 26, Ahmadein said he saw a shotgun aimed at him. Unaware of what type of guns the police were using, he realized “it was just a sound gun, and it wasn’t directed at me it was directed at the crowd.”
What first began with peaceful chants erupted into turmoil as police forces charged at the demonstrators “at full speed, and hit anyone that they got in touch with.”

“Eventually it got to a point where I felt my life was in danger,” Ahmadein said.

Ahmadein joined another peaceful protest that same week when the Egyptian government disconnected mobile phones and the internet to limit communication between demonstrators.

At this demonstration, police once again used brutal force against the demonstrators, including the use of tear gas. Ahmadein said he witnessed individuals lose their lives, even some who had been decapitated.

Although demonstrations were meant to be peaceful, Ahmadein said protestors only used violence as defense and reciprocated police attacks.

Politics Professor Shalendra Sharma delved into the dictatorship of Hosni Mabarak as a disappointment to the Egyptian people. “Egypt used to be a trend setter in the Arab world, it was the place of high culture, of music and literature. Then it became bleak and a drab place. Then you had the emperors and you had the Dubai’s of the world, the materialism…and the Egyptians resented it quickly,” he said.

Prior to Mubarak’s presidency, Gamal Abdel Nasser was Egypt’s second president from 1956 until his untimely death in 1970. He is known for his role in helping overthrow the monarchy in Egypt and Sudan. Although his legacy had mixed criticisms, he was greatly admired by the Arab world for his anti-imperialist efforts.

After Nasser’s death, Vice President Anwar El-Sadat took his place as president, but was assassinated in 1981 after declaring peace with Israel, which was viewed as an act of deceit in the Arab world.

Mubarak began his 30-year reign thereafter. “For all the sense of propriety offended Egyptians, the sheer arrogance that somehow only him and his son can rule Egypt…in the sense he became the pharaoh, and unlike Sadat, and unlike to some extent Nasser, he broke the moral contract of his people,” Professor Sharma said.

Professor Zune said, “For decades, Mubarak was considered what we call a friendly dictator,”

“Over the past 30 years, both the Republican and Democratic administrations took 70 billion dollars of our tax money—money that could have been used for education, healthcare, housing, public transportation…to crop up the Mubarak regime, primarily in the form of military aid.”

According to Professor Zune, the United States has supported Egypt through military aid because the White House considers Egypt an important ally.

To President Barack Obama’s credit, Professor Zune said, “he spoke strongly against shutting down the internet and threatened to cut-off military aid…if U.S. weapons were used in massacre or other form of oppression and eventually called for speedy transition to democracy.”

But the United States did not play a role in the transition to democracy. Mubarak’s resignation Mubarak on Feb. 11 is all in credit to the demonstrators, because even the strongest dictators cannot rule without the cooperation of people.

“Who deserves credit for the Egyptian Revolution?  It’s the Egyptian people,” Professor Zune said.
In the fight for justice, Egyptian activist Zena Sallam said action must be taken into people’s own hands. “If we don’t act on it, then who will? We’ve lost trust in the government. We’ve lost trust in what they can provide us with…it’s time to be accountable and it’s time to be responsible.”

Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy

Chief Copy-Editor: Natalie Cappetta

News Editor: Ericka Montes

Interfaith Meditation Room to Open Oct. 4

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The Interfaith Meditation room (located to the left of University Ministry) is a place for students of all faiths to practice on campus. (Chris Witte/Foghorn)

All faiths are welcome at the Interfaith Meditation Room. University Ministry is set to launch the prayer room on Oct. 4, 2010.  Located to the left of University Ministry (in the former Foghorn office), it will be open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Paul McWilliams, interfaith coordinator at University Ministry, has overseen the completion of the project, but the push for a meditation space on campus can be attributed to USF senior Alia Al-Sharif.

A member of the executive board on the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and former interfaith sub chair on the Mission Committee of ASUSF Senate, Al-Sharif said the meditation room was a necessity on campus. She said, “As a Muslim student, I could not find a prayer room designated for me to pray. I spoke to Buddhist, Christian [non-Catholic] and Jewish students with the same problem. When I would try to book a room through Event Scheduling, they always said no. I could not book a space for prayer.”

In an attempt to gather for reflection, Al-Sharif and the Muslim Student Association were left to meet in interim spaces such as the Atrium, Parina lounge and the student lounge of the formally known Multicultural Student Services (now Intercultural Center).

Not pleased with the lack of a permanent space, Al-Sharif lobbied for an interfaith room on campus through ASUSF Senate. Al-Sharif said, “Senate is the place to go when USF administrators won’t listen. It’s a way to capture their attention and tell them that 55,000 undergraduates support your initiative to make something happen.”

However, is it realistic to think that more than 50,000 students will use the new meditation room? In a survey of 110 USF students, 63 students would not, yet 47 say they would. The answer for some students depended on whether they were Catholic and preferred to pray at St. Ignatius Church. Answers also depended on the terminology used to describe the space.

When asked whether they would use a prayer room on campus, many students replied they would not—regardless of whether they considered themselves spiritual. However, when asked if they would use a meditation room on campus, several pondered the idea longer, leading to a slight increase in the students that said they would use the space.

With respect to students that replied they would not use the room, many said they don’t believe they would have time or want to make the effort to make use of the space. Most of these students, however, agreed that the space was a good asset to the USF campus.

When discussing the differences between St.Ignatius Church and the meditation room, Paul McWilliams said that the church can sometimes be “specific, daunting and overwhelming.”

In contrast, Al-Sharif described the ambience of the meditation room as, “safe, cozy and homey.” She added that she envisioned a blank space with painted walls and carpet but that the room exceeded her expectations.

The interfaith room currently includes a soft gray carpet, cushions and ottomans for seating, as well as a black notebook intended for student feedback. A silk screen and straw mat welcome those who enter to engage in silent prayer.

The meditation room, initially a space given to University Ministry during the campus renovations and moving of USF offices, is small but Al-Sharif said the space is convenient for individual reflection. No religious symbols hang on the walls, but McWilliams said interfaith books and sacred texts would be added for anyone who wished to read inside the room. Looking around the space, Al-Sharif said she is pleased to still be on campus for the realization of her initiative.

Feedback from the USF community is encouraged via the black notebook inside the Interfaith Meditation Room or through Paul McWilliams at ext. 5779.

Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy

Chief Copy-Editor: Burke McSwain

News Editor: Ericka Montes