Islamic Awareness Week seeks to educate, refute media stereotypes of culture

Rachel Cross

This week, the Muslim Student Association at Grand Valley State University will set out to inform the community about Islam, as well as dispell common misconceptions often portrayed in the media, during Islamic Awareness Week.

Sebastian Maisel, adviser of the MSA and professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at GVSU, said Islamic Awareness week includes events that educate the community, including poetic readings, lectures about women’s rights in Islam, as well as a comedian who lightens up the topic a bit.

“This week is a great tool to reach out to the community and tell them about a group of students that represent the largest religion in the world,”
Maisel said. “It’s interesting to know that the MSA students come from Saudia Arabia, Syria, Pakistan, the United States, you name it. All major Muslim countries have students at GVSU working together peacefully and collaborating on these events and activities.”

Maisel added that his role in Islamic Awareness week is to make sure everything works according to certain rules and guidelines, as well as to supervise the MSA members. In addition, he will present a lecture on Islam in Asia during the week.

“Through lectures, poetry readings and artistic expressions, it draws a lot of attention to people,” Maisel said. “We look for topics of interest that will appeal to the audience – we want to inform people about the existing stereotypes and misconceptions through our speakers.”

Zeana Khodor, president of MSA, said she’s in charge of dividing up the work among members in preparing for Islamic Awareness week.

The members have to figure out what presenters they want to bring, as well as advertising their events, Khodor said.

Khodor said the week starts out with an Islam 101 lecture to first inform people about the basic ideas associated with Islam.

“I hope people walk away with something new,” Khodor said. “If they had a bad idea of what Islam really is before, I hope these events can change their minds.”

Maisel said he would highly recommend students attend these events because they can learn how diverse GVSU really is.

“It seems that in West Michigan, we have an understanding that our society is so homogenous, and students are usually surprised to realize how many different beliefs are represented on campus,” Maisel said. “When students or the community listen to the news on any form of media, it is a very distorted picture of Islam, with violence, fighting and bombing highlighted.”

Maisel added that Islam represents one-fifth of the global population and that GVSU has some of the brightest and most peaceful representatives ranging from India to Pakistan, where these students manage to work together on a common theme and goal.

The first event of Islamic Awareness week, “Islamic 101: Learning the basics,” will be on Feb. 25 from 2-3 p.m in the Kirkhof Center in Room 2204.

For more information on the Islamic Awareness Week and the MSA, contact the MSA at [email protected].