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February 7, 2002 Islamic Awareness Day at Concordia popular with students



by Eyad Hamam

The mezzanine of the Hall Building teemed with activity last week as students browsed through books and pamphlets about Islam, and asked questions at the information tables set up as part of Concordia’s annual Islamic Awareness Day.

“I’m really gratified that the Muslim Student Association is doing this, and I think that they’ve been very effective in getting general information about Islam out there,” said second-year Spanish major Mathew Vaughn.

The table that interested him most was the one dealing with women in Islam. Since the table was being run by Moslem women, he had a chance to ask them directly about how they see their role in Islamic society.

For Shama Naz, an honours economics student and the organizer of the women’s table, that was the whole point. “When there’s no direct dialogue, all that people learn about Islam comes from the media, and there’s obviously a lack of communication,” she said, adjusting her niquab, a head-covering that covers the entire face, except for the eyes.

Often, while walking through Montreal, and even on campus, Naz hears comments and snide remarks about the way she looks. “The moment someone looks at me, they think I’m oppressed or misguided into wearing this, but I wear it because I want to, because I’m not out to display myself as an object.” She believes that wearing a covering should be a personal choice, and that preventing women from wearing one is just as oppressive as forcing them to.

As well as the information tables, students could also watch a PBS documentary about Islam on a television set up nearby. They learned about Mohammad’s early life as a merchant in Mecca, and the beginnings of his message at age 40. “This documentary is really quite good, because it explains Islam in a historical context, and in an uncontentious way,” explained Ferhan Patel, a Concordia student and a member of the MSA.

In his opinion, Islam and the Quran are often misunderstood and misrepresented in Canadian media. The most common misunderstandings include the oppression of women, and the misinterpretation of Islamic terminology, specifically the term jihad. “We want people to come here so they can clarify things, and so they can base their opinions about Islam on facts,” he said.

Judging by student response to the fair, the MSA is succeeding in getting information about Islam out to students. Last semester, Islamic Awareness Day was held in November, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and almost 50 Qurans a day were handed out to students. This semester, the number has jumped to nearly 100 Qurans a day.

All one has to do to become a Muslim is say the shahada, Islam’s main article of faith: “I attest that there is no God but Allah, and Mohammad is his prophet.”