The Islamic Society of Brooklyn College recently hosted a series of lectures to educate the BC community about their religion.
Given the increased media coverage of Islam in recent years, students in the society said they wanted to give a first-hand account of their religion. As part of a week of events, Muslim students handed out pamphlets on campus that explain such things as women's role in Islam and the meaning behind the hijab, the headscarf many Muslim women wear. They also held prayer sessions in the Quadrangle.
Farah Khan, a junior and member of the Islamic Society's executive board, said they had been thinking about putting together a series of events for about two years. She said the society has upwards of 200 members, which she estimated was a majority of the Muslim students on campus.
"We just think it's important to get rid of the stigma and elucidate what we are really about," Khan said.
So what does Islam mean to the students who ascribe to it?
For Khan, who was born into a Muslim family from Pakistan, it means "the best possible way of living," she said, explaining that she wasn't as committed to the religion until she got to college and decided to learn more about Islam. She finally came to understand such customs as wearing a hijab.
"In a world where women are constantly exploited, it makes me feel liberated," she said. "You see all these images where women are objectified and I feel like the hijab is the antithesis of that."
Senior Abdul Muzib was also born into a Muslim family but says he didn't start actively practicing the religion until about eight years ago.
Asked what being a Muslim meant to him, he said simply that "it means to submit to the will of God." He added that he takes comfort in Muslim edicts that advise practitioners how to eat and conduct themselves generally. "It's a way of life. Every aspect of life is covered."
Many Muslim students had list of things they'd like to clear up about their religion.
"Often, people just think we are so different," said junior Khatera Rahmani, who does not wear a hijab. "I'd like them to understand that our religion has a lot of the same basic principals, moralities, and ideals of many other major religions."
Khan added that her pet peeve is hearing that Islam is oppressive to women.
"If it was so oppressive, I probably wouldn't even be here at Brooklyn College," she said, noting that she's always happy to answer the many questions she gets about her religion.
Muzib said he thinks one of the biggest misconceptions about Islam is that all Muslims are terrorists. "Islam teaches not to kill innocent people, not to harm anyone, not to steal, and not to destroy," he said. But because of media images, "when people see a man like myself with a beard, they associate me with terrorists."
For his part, James Lubin, a senior and a Christian, is glad to be exposed to many religions on campus. He came to one of the week's events because a Muslim friend invited him.
"I feel like we have a good mix on campus and it's nice for us all to have an opportunity to learn about each other," he said.
Odelia Lewis, a junior and a non-Muslim said she came to an event because she was "just curious" about things like why some women wear the hijab and some don't and what people who have converted to Islam have to say about it.
"I just think there's probably a lot more than what we hear on the news about Muslims and so I came to hear about it from them," she said.