Islamic Awareness Week begins today

Yasir Kazi GRD ’11, one of the planned speakers for Islamic Awareness Week, believes that now, more than ever, there is an urgent need for fellow Americans to understand Islam.

Kazi will participate in the Muslim Student Association’s annual week — the theme of which is “From the Holocaust to the Homeland: Muslim Contributions across the Globe” — which kicks off Monday. Altaf Saadi ’08, president of Yale’s MSA, said this year’s program has a special focus on covering Muslim contributions across different arenas on the American and global landscapes, whether politically, socially or artistically.

“It’s been an effective way for the MSA to inform the Yale community about Islam and the issues Muslims face in America and abroad,” Saadi said. “We’ve continued this tradition of promoting understanding and dialogue this year.”

Islamic Awareness Week, the brainchild of MSA-National, occurs at various college campuses throughout North America at different points throughout the year. MSA has sponsored the event at Yale for more than six years, said Mahan Mirza, the Muslim fellow at the Yale Chaplain’s Office.

Saadi, Mirza and Kazi all stressed the relevance of such programs in today’s society, in which images of Islam and its followers are often associated with negative stereotypes.

“With all that is going on in the world, and with Islam taking center stage in most of it, we need to reach out and build bridges in order to clear up the confusion and dust that exists in the minds of many,” Kazi said.

In his address Thursday, Kazi said he will discuss some of the challenges — such as questions of identity, inter-faith marriages and racism — that the Muslim community is facing, and he plans to offer some constructive advice.

“We face unique challenges — we have to prove our patriotism to most of our fellow Americans,” Kazi said. “To some Americans, we even have to prove that we are not terrorists or sympathetic to terrorists.”

The events scheduled for the week include the screening of a film about Si Kaddour Benghrabit, who saved the lives of Jewish children during World War II, an exhibition of the work of Pakistani artist Ayesha Khan, a lecture on Islam’s “Past, Present, and Future” and several meetings in which Muslim students will have the opportunity to interact and pray with each other. Saadi said the turnout for last year’s events varied, with anywhere from 25 to 70 people attending a given event. MSA is hoping to have the same turnout this year, she said, since there has generally been a positive response to the announced events and many different groups have been involved in the planning.

“An event such as this allows local, everyday Muslims to show a different face of Islam — a face they are familiar with and that they see in the mirror,” Mirza said. “I encourage people to attend the events of this week, ask questions and learn about what Islam is and who American Muslims are.”

Mirza said event planning begins in the fall semester when the MSA governing board convenes to come up with ideas. The week is co-sponsored by the Council on Middle East Studies, the MacMillan Center, the Religious Studies Department, the Chaplain’s Office, the Asian American Cultural Center, the Slifka Center, Jews for Justice and the Yale Friends of Israel.

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