UB students 'Ask a Muslim Woman'
Muslim Women’s Council held information event for students to learn about Muslim religion
Samiha Islam, along with other Muslim students, has faced stereotypes throughout her life. The Muslim Women’s Council hopes to erase those stereotypes.
On Friday, The Muslim Women’s Council held “Ask a Muslim Woman” in order to inform students about the Muslim culture and religion. This gave students an opportunity to understand Muslim beliefs and ask them questions.
This wasn’t the first event the MWC has held to foster understanding between Muslims and non-Muslim studnets. In February, they held the ‘Cover a Mile in Her Scarf” event in which non-Muslim women wore hijabs for a day. They then held a discussion session about what the participants learned from the experience.
Islam, a freshman computer science major, started the “Ask a Muslim Woman” event with an icebreaker – she held up a piece of paper that had an outline of a bear on it.
“If this bear was a smart bear, what qualities would you add to it?” she said.
Students in the audience shared characteristics for the ‘smart bear’ based on stereotypes of what “smartness” looks like, such as glasses.
“Does every smart person have glasses and a tie?” Islam said. “They don’t, but the thing is that’s what happens when you hear a stereotype. Immediately people think of certain characteristics or qualities – like wearing a headscarf, people get boxed into a categorization.”
The group broke down the religion, taking attendees through the pillars of Islam.
After the icebreaker, in addition to the pillars, the group discusses faith, hijab and marriage.
The first pillar of Islam is the Shahada. The English translation is the “testimony of faith.”
“Just because somebody is born Islam or into the religion, does that automatically make them Muslim?” said Yara Mohamed, a senior English major. “If you take somebody who really doesn’t give a care for the religion and somebody who spreads their life around it, would you look at them in the same manner?”
The testimony is, “I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah, and Muhammad is His final messenger.”
Mohamed was brought up in a family with a liberal view of Islam. She was raised with a mentality she said is “very chill.”
“Because of my lack of experiences with Islam I never really got to see what it means to be Muslim,” Mohamed said. “I never actually witnessed the Shahada until about two years ago.”
A Muslim person will practice the Shahada at least one time in his or her life with sincere recitation and understanding of what it means, which makes it important to the religion.
Muslims have prayer five times a day and in each prayer they bring up the Shahada – they are continuously reminded what it means to be Muslim.
Salah is the second pillar of Islam – the practice of ritualistic prayer.
Muslims pray five times a day because of Taqwa, which means God Consciousness and to remain in state of purity.
They pray at 5 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. – they will even step out of class or work to perform prayer.
“As Muslims our motive in life and our reasoning for living is that we are here to worship Allah,” said Montaha Rizeq, a senior history major.
Ramadan is one of the five pillars of faith and the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, which is a lunar calendar.
This includes a daily fast that starts just before sunrise and breaks just after sunset. It commemorates the first revelation of the Quran, which occurred during this month.
“It is really a time of self-reflection, increased worship, atonement and a recharging of our spiritual batteries,” said Aminah McBryde, a senior history and sociology major who was raised Muslim. “One of the biggest aspects of Ramadan is abstaining from food and drink. Through that we are supposed to learn about the experiences of the less fortunate and develop a sense of gratitude and thankfulness for all of the countless blessings that God has given us.”
During this time, Muslims fast – they abstain from food, drink, smoking and sexual intercourse. All focus, action and thoughts must be on God.
Ramadan 2015 starts around June 17 and ends July 17. Muslims in Buffalo will be fasting around 18 hours a day.
Ramadan is a time where Muslims try to correct their behaviors and treatment of others and ask for forgiveness. It is meant to teach them compassion and patience, perseverance, strength and dedication.
Zakah means to purify. It is a tool that purifies them from selfishness and fosters social harmony and justice.
“It is one of the best actions you can do as a Muslim because nobody really knows that you’re doing it,” Islam said. “It is done only for God.”
For the wealthy, Zakah purifies their wealth and brings humility and gratitude. For the poor, Zakah brings hope and satisfaction and removes enmity for the rich.
“What if Bill Gates gave Zakah?” Islam said. “Muslims give 2.5 percent of their worth to Zakah. Bill Gates net worth is 58 billion – if he gave 2.5 percent of that he would give 1.45 billion dollars. He could support nearly 50,000 families with an income of 30,000 dollars.”
If a family doesn’t have enough money for Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, they can use the money from Zakah to do so.
Hajj begins in the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. In 2015, Hajj will occur toward the end of September. Muslims are obligated to go once in a lifetime if they are physically capable and have the means to do it. If not, they can have other people go in their place.
“Hajj cleanses all your sins and is meant to express devotion to God,” said Nida Syed, a senior biological sciences major. “You re-examine one’s intentions and strive for self-improvement.”
Syed hasn't gone on Hajj yet but went on Umrah, which is a mini version of the pilgrimage that can be done any time of the year.
“I enjoyed my trip to Umrah very much because I felt so much at peace,” Syed said. “We all practiced our prayers together so it was a great time to connect with family and other people from around the world.”
Farhana Shafi, a senior biotechnology major, started to fully wear her hijab when she was 9 years old but didn’t develop a serious understanding about the function of hijab until she was 17.
She grew up in Malaysia where some government schools make it obligatory to wear hijab for the female Muslim students. One day before she was 9, she was out with her mom and ran into her teacher.
“Although of course she would understand since it’s the common culture for primary school kids to not fully wear hijab at that age, I felt ashamed about myself,” Shafi said. “Since then, I learned to wear hijab.”
Hijab represents modesty, respect and protection, according the Muslim faith.
Muslims believe a woman’s beauty should be shown only to those who deserve to see it – their family, husband, husband’s parents, etc.
“Those eyes may carry evil that you don’t know what the owner of the eyes have in their hearts,” Shafi said. “Your beauty may be the envy of others or may be the cause of negative actions from them who have illness in their hearts.”
Marriage in Islam
Marriage in Islam emphasizes finding a soul mate for life. There is no dating or having multiple partners before one is married.
Nofa Abdallah, a psychology graduate student, found her “one true mate” and recently got married.
Her husband is of Indian descent and she is of Palestinian descent. This was something new for her family because they have all married people from Palestine.
“It creates a strong bond between the couple because the woman and the man are the first to experience one another in the most intimate relationship,” Abdallah said. “It is when love becomes a pure and lawful matter.”
There is an emphasis in Islam to love only for the sake of Allah. It is said that the husband and wife who fear and love Allah above all will have the most prosperous life in this world and in the hereafter.
A time to talk
After the information session, students had the opportunity to ask questions to the council that they were unsure about to better understand Muslims.
“The reason why we gave them a little bit of information about our religion at the ‘Ask a Muslim Woman’ event is because you can’t really ask any questions until you know what to ask questions about,” Islam said.
The audience asked questions about their beliefs, what the difference was between their culture and religion, their views on gay rights, what hijab means to them and what the best piece of advice they have been given is.
“I think humanity’s biggest weakness is ignorance,” Islam said. “That is true regardless of what culture, religion or place you are.”
Dani Guglielmo is a features staff writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org