MSA hosts annual banquet, reflects on recent events

Sunday, March 17, 2019 - 7:56pm

Vice President for Student Life E Royster Harper speaks at the Muslim Student Association's The Power of Small Deeds Banquet at the League Ballroom Sunday.

Vice President for Student Life E Royster Harper speaks at the Muslim Student Association's The Power of Small Deeds Banquet at the League Ballroom Sunday. Buy this photo
Cameron Hunt/Daily

On Sunday evening, the Muslim Students’ Association held Honoring Everyday Heroes: The Power of Small Deeds in order to recognize the small acts of compassion, empathy and service of people within the Muslim community. The banquet is held annually to appreciate what the Muslim community has accomplished throughout the year. Held in the Michigan League, approximately 250 students and family members were present. The two hosts, Public Policy junior Arwa Gayar and LSA senior Arhum Mahmoud, brought humor to the event, while guest speakers addressed more serious topics of community solidarity and support.

Mohammad Shaikh, Business senior and president of MSA, said the event’s theme of heroism was meant to highlight the Islamic conception of heroism and the small deeds individuals carry out which impact others on a daily basis.

“The intention behind the event was to really highlight not individuals, but to highlight the acts that individuals do that make them heroic,” Shaikh said. “And because we are a faith community we are inspired by our belief in God. Anything we do is for His sake and His sake alone, what we are really trying to center with this event is the Islamic conception of heroism and that is somewhat contradictory to maybe traditional or Western conception of heroism which is more oriented around someone who controls destiny or alters destiny in some transformative way. And while that is a part of heroism, we see that as a byproduct of God's will, and we see that islamic heroism is really centered around humility, bashfulness, and mercy in serving others.”

False reports of an active shooter on campus broke yesterday during the vigil on the diag remembering the 50 people killed in a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday. In the wake of this event, student organizers and speakers took time to recognize the importance of supporting one and other during this difficult time. Though the reports were unfounded, the fear students experienced was real.

Gayar addressed the threats of an active shooter in the beginning of the event.

“Yesterday’s events have contextualized just how crucial our community is on campus,” Gayar said. “We built a space to mourn the lives lost in New Zealand and when broken apart in fear our community was still there … I know hiding in the Hatcher basement, my phone was filled with messages of love and support by people in this community that I seldom talk to. I think that that’s a testament to MSA and the resilience and care with which we have created this space.”

Public Health student Afeefah Khan organized the MSA banquet. Khan told The Daily the theme was especially fitting after the support everyone witnessed during the chaos of the reported threat.

“Our theme is called honoring everyday heroes, the power of small deeds,” Khan said. “It’s kind of ironic because we had picked this theme a while ago and initially it was going to be about celebrating people’s accomplishments in the community, but in light of the events that recently happened, we focus it more on coming together as a community and how we can all be heroes for each other and support and looking out for one another.”

Shaikh said witnessing strangers help each other to shelter and communicate with friends and family to alert community members were all powerful acts of kindness the event aimed to celebrate.

“We reflected a lot after yesterday’s vigil,” Shaikh said. “A lot of us were involved in organizing or were at the frontlines of that vigil. Certainly during yesterday's event we saw a lot of these small heroic acts, these small deeds, of kindness and selflessness … as soon as there was commotion at the vigil everyone ran inside, people were tweeting each other, like family, really looking out for each other … And that was something we thought was truly beautiful.”

Khan said MSA debated cancelling the banquet, but ultimately decided to keep it in order to give the community an opportunity to come together.

“We were debating whether or not to keep the event on, but what we ended up deciding is that it’s in times like this where we want the community to come together and show that we’re here for each other, that we have each other as our support system,” Khan said. “It’s really in these times that we’re scared we want to be with each other more to show that we have each other around and that we’re not going to let the fear that’s out there stop us from being together.”

Souad Ali, Public Health graduate student, said she and others are grateful the event was not cancelled.

“We’re thankful that they didn’t cancel it because of everything that happened yesterday,” Ali said. “We saw how much everyone for each other and it’s just nice to see everybody here happy, not worried for their lives and joining together for something nice and pleasant.”

Shaikh addressed how while some people questioned participating in a night of celebration after such frightening events, the banquet is important to celebrate the strength of the Muslim community.

“I really hope that attendees realize that as Muslims we are strong and we are resilient and while it might feel a little weird for people to be celebrating after such a tragic incident yesterday, it’s important for us to center that we are celebrating the strength and resilience that we have to get through some of these challenging times,” Shaikh said.

E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, was a speaker at the event. She said she understands the fear felt yesterday, and extended her support to the community. Though the reports were eventually attributed to balloon popping, Harper acknowledged the reality of the situation.

“We are grateful that it was only balloons, but everybody in this room knows it could have been what we feared most,” Harper said. “And that’s what makes our hearts sink. We noticed what’s going on in the world today, and the way in which this community has been targeted, and I want you to know that I understand that in a deep and profound way.”

Harper went on to offer resources for support for any student affected by the threats.

“I am grateful that you are here tonight and want you to know if there is anything that we need to do, if you need academic accommodations, if you need mental health accommodations, if you even kind of think maybe you are going to need that, we want to provide that and make sure you have the support,” Harper said. “I want to just again offer my both support for the community so whatever it is that you need we are here to provide, we stand in solidarity with you and for you.”

Ali said she appreciated Harper’s words of support.

“I really enjoyed the things she was saying just about like solidarity and the way she was not only sympathizing but empathizing with the community and relating to us and making sure that we are heard and people know what is going on,” Ali said.

Guest speaker Shaykh Mohammed Ishtiaq was the former MSA chaplain and spoke about community bonding and the power of small deeds.

“It’s a time for us to get together,” Ishtiaq said. “There’s so many players going on, and so many community members are coming together, and this is what we need. And when they’re talking about small things, it’s just a smile sometimes that can make such a big difference.”

The event also included a spoken word poem by LSA sophomore Fareah Fysudeen and video presentations.

Shaikh said he hopes people leave the event considering the impact of their everyday actions, and reflect upon the change acts of kindness and selflessness can create.

“People take seriously what their everyday actions are and how they affect the world around them,” Shaikh said. “Because I’m a firm believer Islam really stresses the importance of not only actions but how actions have the ability to really transform and change the world really. Even though it sounds lofty or ambitious. It starts with our actions, it starts with our hearts, and our actions are really a reflection of our heart.”