by Anita Grace
The first large-scale conference of Muslim students at Concordia took place on October 8 on the theme of balancing intellectual knowledge with the search for goodness and truth.
Invited speakers from Great Britain and the United States talked about a time of "profound change" for Muslims, and challenged the young audience of more than 300 to take their destinies into their own hands.
The conference, intended to be an annual event, was given by the Students' Association for Muslim Awareness (SAMA) and Montreal Islamic Communities, and was designed to help students integrate the Islamic perspective with their academic life.
"A wise man will not pass judgment with a narrow vision," said Hassanain Rajabali. A speaker from New York, he focused on preserving Islamic morals in the academic environment. "The wider a person can see, the better the judgment."
Muslim students expressed concern about the way Western society views Islam. Ehsan Afkhami, a third-year Electrical Engineering student, pointed to the way Muslims are negatively portrayed in Hollywood movies and by the news media.
Abdulkadir Omar, a first-year Journalism student, talked about the difference in Eastern and Western cultures and the way people often think. "But everyone chooses what they want to believe," he added. "When you talk to real intellectual people who understand what they believe, you love their belief. It is peaceful, it makes sense."
Dr. Maryam Boudh-Hir, born and raised in the U.S., conducted exhaustive research on Islam in the 1980s, aiming to prove it a false religion, but ended up converting. Since that time, she has dedicated herself to the study of the Quran. It took courage for her to begin wearing hijab, including the traditional headscarf, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, during the Gulf War.
Boudh-Hir devoted much of her lecture toward the women in the audience wearing similar dress. She said that equality of the sexes does not mean a "unisexuality" that pushes women to imitate men. "The roles of male and female are distinct and different, but dependent upon each other," she said. She also talked about fields of study where a Muslim presence is needed, such as science, environmental studies and psychology.
Her lecture grabbed the attention of many members of audience. "It was interesting to hear from someone who has lived a totally different life, but who is now practising [our] religion in the same place and time," said Anwar Hayat, the conference director.
Ali Abbas Mir, the president of the SAMA, was pleased with the interest in the conference. "Inshallah [if Allah wills it], it will provide a guideline for some youth who are directionless."
SAMA was founded in 1994 by 20 students, and now has a membership list of 150. Mir estimates that there are more than 8,000 Muslim students at Concordia.
Another conference, this one on Arab women, took place on Saturday at the Universit du Qubec Montral under the title "Unveiling Our Minds." It was supported by the Concordia-UQAM Chair in Ethnic Studies, among others.