Offering donuts, candy and engaging conversations, the University of Michigan's Islamic Society of Ahl-ul-Bayt, along with the Muslim Students’ Association, hosted a “Meet a Muslim” table in Mason Hall Wednesday to open dialogue between Muslim and non-Muslim students on campus. The event is part of a series of events hosted by ISA during their Muslim Engagement week.
According to Syed Rizvi, ISA president and LSA junior, the event was designed to allow non-Muslim students as well as Muslim students of different sects to engage in conversations to better understand different student perspectives on campus.
“We want to spread awareness about what Islam is, and an opportunity with a non-Muslim to talk with a Muslim and get familiar with Muslims,” Rizvi said. “By doing that, people will feel more comfortable with each other, but also for other Muslims to meet other types of Muslims like Sunnis and Shias can meet one another. It's pretty fun meeting new people, people are actually talking and learning more about us.”
ISA advisor and LSA senior Shabber Syed said conversations about student differences do not always happen on campus and are necessary to recognize and give voices to smaller communities.
“I feel like sometimes we don't have the conversations we should be having to essentially empower some of the communities we have,” Syed said. “I feel like this is a good way to have people come up and talk to us, not only to decrease ignorance but increase knowledge and empower Muslims and feel like we are here and people actually want to talk to us about what makes us different. You can come talk to us about anything you want, not necessarily to normalize us only but again just to let people know its ok to come ask us questions.”
Another ISA advisor, Fatima Haidar, said practicing these interactions with students from different backgrounds and cultures is key to developing comfortable discussion.
“It can go both ways, it can be either really great or really not. I used to avoid having these conversations but I think when you become more comfortable with your identity in a space where your identity stands out i feel like it becomes easier to have those conversations because you begin to know how to navigate it even if the other person doesn't.”
LSA freshman Noelle Seward visited the table and said hearing different perspectives helps combat stereotypes about different students.
“I think it’s a really good way to share your culture with people because there are a lot of things people don't know and people just assume things,” Seward said. “It was interesting, I like to hear from other people's perspectives because so many people just make assumptions about others.
According to Haidar, helping attendees feel comfortable asking questions was critical to creating productive dialogue.
“I’ve already engaged in some good conversations,” Haidar said. “I try to break the ice by starting off with questions that may seem ridiculous but i've gotten like oh are you bald, and I tell them no, or do you shower with that on, like no. I feel like it cracks the ice because once you start with the dumbest questions it goes on from there.”
According to Business senior Mohammad Shaikh, the series of events was previously titled their Islamic Awareness week, Shaikh said the change came from their desire to have more hands-on and engaging conversations with the Muslim community on campus.
“Beyond just raising awareness — while that is important — we’re trying to get people to actually not just be aware of what Islam is but actually engage with it,” Shaikh said. “In the past it was called Islamic Awareness Week, but we intentionally changed it to engagement week so people can engage with Muslims and their contributions to society at large.”
Syed said he hopes the engaging conversations will continue outside the conversations had at the table.
“I feel like usually these kind of events are very successful, but the problem is after they happen it kind of just goes back to normal, people don't ask questions anymore,” Syed said. “What's’ actually really unfortunate sometimes is I feel like other Muslims don't actually ask other Muslims, by different denominations, they sometimes don't ask questions that they should be. I feel like those are conversations we need to start having more on campus, especially to be more inclusive like we try to promote here at the University of Michigan.”