April marks the beginning of Islamic Heritage Month. To celebrate the Southern Miss Muslim Student Association will be hosting Islam Awareness Week April 9-13.
Five thousand Muslims reside in Mississippi, according to the 2010 Religion Census. Despite this, the fastest growing religion in the world (having a reported 1.8 million members, according to the Pew Research Center,) continues to struggle with being accepted in the South.
Freshman biomedical science major and president of the Southern Miss Muslim Student Association Sumar Beauti aims to change that through continuing to expose Southern Miss students to her culture.
“We are constantly hearing about ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups who manipulate and use Islam as a way to gain power,” Beauti said.
“We, as humans, tend to jump to conclusions and believe what we hear without actively wanting to learn the truth. I believe that the more we educate and spread awareness about Islam; however, the more Mississippians and even America as a whole will begin to have the true view of the peaceful religion and ignore the false views from the media.”
The first day of Islam Awareness Week encourages non-Muslim students and faculty to ask questions to members of MSA from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Union Lobby. Information about the Five Pillars of Islam, Ramadan, prayer and more will be available.
On Tuesday students will be handed a rose with a verse from the Quran, the religious text of Islam. However, the word “Allah” will not be found.
“The Holy Quran refers to the uniqueness of the name Allah in the verse: “Do you know anyone who can be named along with Him?” (19:65),” Beauti said.
“All Muslims around the world speaking different languages recognize the name “Allah”, thus fulfilling His prophecy, His name as one. Because of the uniqueness and amount of respect that comes with the name Allah, it is highly disrespectful to throw away anything that contains His name. Instead, we should either shred the paper or burn it so that the name is no longer legible. To avoid any disrespect, we will just replace the name Allah with God on the verses.”
The MSA will table from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in Shoemaker Square to play a fact or fiction game called “Muslims, Media & Misconceptions.”
In 2016, 49 percent of Americans thought Muslims were “anti-American,” according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
Islam constantly being associated with terrorism and sexism in the media contribute to this view, and Beauti said players can expect to debunk these myths in the game.
The executive team of MSA said the most important day is Thursday during “The Virtues of Charity,” which serves as a tribute to the third pillar “zakat” (meaning “charity” in Arabic) in the Five Pillars of Islam.
Daniel Capper has been a comparative religion teacher at Southern Miss for 18 years and is the advisor of MSA.
“Muslims are required to give—it depends on where you are—one and a half or two percent of their assets to charity each year,” Capper said.
Clarifying that this is not the same as the American income tax, Capper said, “This is because the prophet Muhammed was an orphan, so he knew how much people on the margins of society could suffer.”
“You give this money for zakat. It’s not—at least in theory—allowed to pay for salary for clerics or build new mosques. In theory, this money is only allowed to be used to feed the hungry and house the homeless,” Capper said.
To raise donations for the Fieldhouse for the Homeless, MSA will be selling baklava, a Middle Eastern pastry filled with walnuts, cinnamon, and nutmeg covered in a sugar syrup, for $1 until Wednesday, April 11. The price will be raised to $1.50 on the day of the event from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Union Lobby.
“The shelter needs several fixes and is in need of item donations and volunteers. I was born and raised in Hattiesburg and seeing that there is such a large homeless population in my hometown gave me the motivation to help eradicate homelessness in Hattiesburg,” Beauti said.
On the last day of Islam Awareness Week, MSA invites everyone to experience Jummah (meaning “Friday prayer”) with them from 12:45 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Islamic Center of Hattiesburg.
When the MSA hosted Hijab Day in February, a black Muslim student was told by another student that she cannot be African-American and wear the hijab. According to Beauti, the student said wearing the hijab “will make African Americans look like they are supporting a religion that terrorizes and kills.”
Sophomore international student from Nigeria majoring in biological sciences major and vice president of MSA Mariam Atobiloye said this narrative describes what most continue to get wrong about Islam.
“Believe me, Islam is the complete opposite of this,” Atobiloye said.
Capper recalled having to disprove that myth on September 11, 2001, when a Bolivian woman was attacked on the Southern Miss campus. “I had to counsel a lot of people that day and tell them, ‘Hey, don’t be idiots.’”