Students aim to repair public view of Islam in weeklong program

BY MICHAEL KAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 3, 2004

In a brief instant, LSA junior Amjad Tarsin turned from a
regular American citizen to a suspected terrorist.

“I was going to Saudi Arabia and I had an Arab name. Fit
two and two together and you can figure it out,” he said.

Waiting in line among dozens of other passengers, Tarsin
expected to go through the ordinary routine of airport security,
before getting on a plane to visit his parents in Saudi Arabia. But
before he cleared the metal detectors, a guard escorted him out of
the line into a different detector with no waiting line — it
was opened only for him.

He said, “It felt like I was a criminal.”

Though Tarsin still made his flight, the event lingers in his
mind and reminds him how difficult it is to be a Muslim in the
United States.

Starting today, the Muslim Students’ Association hopes to
counteract those difficulties with this year’s annual Islam
Awareness Week.

Having originated in 1994, the week has the goal of informing
the University community on Islam and dispelling misconceptions
about the religion. The past few years have seen the importance of
that goal increase dramatically as the stereotypes have
multiplied.

Since Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many Muslim students at the
University like Tarsin say they have watched their religion become
linked to words and phrases such as “terrorism” and
“holy war” by non-Muslims uneducated about Islam.

Furthermore, the media portrayal of Muslims only provides
mainstream America with a slanted view of Islam, said Lubna Grewal,
who is co-chair MSA Islam Awareness Week along with Tarsin.

“I think there is a complete misrepresentation of Muslims
in general. The Muslims that are in the news are extremists and are
only 5 percent of the population. So I’m being represented by
5 percent of the population of Muslims,” she said.

Stories like Tarsin’s are only the tip of the iceberg. Now
26 percent of Muslims say they have been discriminated against in
the past three years and 72 percent say they have experienced more
discrimination since Sept. 11, according to a recent national poll
conducted by New California Media, a national association of ethnic
media organizations, and Amnesty International, a human rights
organization.

Yet perhaps the most disheartening effect is how being Muslim
now equates to being “un-American,” Grewal said.

“So many times I’ve been asked about my religion in
a negative way, and everyone assumes that I’m a foreigner.
But I was born here. I’m just like everyone else,” she
added.

To counter this increasing negativity about Muslims, this
year’s awareness week will seek to demonstrate that Muslims
in America are no different than Americans of other religions and
backgrounds, Tarsin said. “To reach that, we need
everyone’s support and to bridge the gap and to show them we
are all not so different — that we can all benefit from one
another,” he added.

At the same time, MSA looks to breakdown the distorted image of
Islam and spread its basic message of peace, MSA Vice President
Aisha Jukaku said. She added that even with the difficulties facing
the Muslim community, “We want to take advantage of this
opportunity. This opportunity, it arose out of tragedy, and we have
to deal with that and hope for the best.”

Tarsin said he hopes for the same and expects University
students will get the message. “When people see the banner
saying, ‘Islam Awareness’ it will be in red, white and
blue. Those are our colors too.” During Islam Awareness Week,
tables manned by MSA members will be visible on the Diag and in the
Michigan Union and Pierpont Commons. Group members will be on-hand
to answer students’ questions. about the religion.

MSA will also sponsor programs on a variety of Muslim issues,
centered on Muslim-American identity. The programs range from a
speech by Umar Farooq Abd-Allah — a former University Near
Eastern Studies professor — on the history of early Muslims
in America, to a lecture on former NBA player Muhammed Abdul-Rauf
struggle as a black Muslim.