Sep 282008
 
Authors: Jim Sojourner

The rhythmic, music-like chanting of prayer leader Mikal Abdul-Mateen echoed against the wall of building 34 of the University Village Center Saturday night. In the waning orange light of dusk, the Muslim faithful pressed their faces to the prayer mats, eyes shut tightly, every one of them facing Mecca.

Although similar scenes are commonplace in much of the Muslim world, the fast-breaking prayer at the Muslim Student Association’s Islamic Cultural Night was a rare glimpse into the lives of the Muslim community in the U.S. and more specifically at CSU, members said.

Salih Abdul-Matten, president of the MSA, said the goal of the event was to raise awareness and further the community’s understanding of Muslim life and the month of Ramadan in particular.

MSA member Sahar Babak, a senior accounting major, Mohamed Jefri, an undeclared freshman from Saudi Arabia, and Abdul-Mateen agreed that the non-Muslim community does need to continue to improve its understanding of Muslim culture but were impressed with the level of understanding at CSU.

“One of the great things about America is the diversity of cultures, especially in college towns,” Muslim chaplain Mikal Abdul-Mateen, who spoke at the event, said.

Julianne Wood, a CSU freshman seeking a Health and Life Sciences major, agreed that raising awareness in the community is important.

“We need to be educating ourselves and learning how other people think,” Wood said, “I think we’ve come far, but we still have a long way to go.”

College students, though, have been particularly open to other cultures.

“College students are more understanding than the general community,” Babak said.

She explained that the condensed population on college campuses makes interactions with Muslim students likely, if not inevitable. She said that personal connections are the best way to eliminate misunderstanding.

Babak said she enjoys being a Muslim for this reason.

“I feel like I have more of a chance to educate people,” Babak said.

Jefri echoed Babak’s sentiments. He said both students and professors understand and accommodate Muslim student needs, and said that he never performing the required daily prayers in the back of his classrooms.

“They do a great job. People understand,” Jefri said.

Aside from the student population, Abdul-Mateen said “the [CSU] administration is really open to accommodation.”

Abdul-Mateen said the MSA does rent out room 135 in the Lory Student Center to act as a prayer room and that the university even put on an Iftar, a meal that breaks the daytime fast, in one of the dining halls last week.

Despite the high level of awareness he believes exists at CSU, Jefri said Muslim students do face some challenges that other students don’t, particularly during Ramadan.

“My calculus exam last week was like two hours before my breakfast. It’s good to eat before an exam but during Ramadan that is not possible,” Jefri said.

He said that most of his problems arise due to issues with scheduling that Ramadan creates. Jefri said after getting up before dawn to eat and a long day of fasting, he wants to break the fast, prepare for the next day and sleep in the evening, but often has to take time to complete his homework.

He said keeping such a rigorous schedule wears him out and is hard on Muslim students.

While many Muslim students at the event were optimistic about the level of understanding at CSU, some non-Muslims were more skeptical about awareness on campus and in the country as a whole.

“All you know about [Muslims] is what you see on the news,” Max Clark, a junior history major said.

In its attempt to promote understanding, students agreed that the Islamic Cultural Night was a huge success.

The event included displays of Islamic literature and art, posters and pamphlets that addressed issues such as Muslim beliefs and the role of women in Islam, a showing of the documentary “American Ramadan,” the breaking-of-the-fast dinner which was composed of Middle Eastern dishes provided by members of the community, and a discussion of fasting by Mikal Abdul-Mateen.

A question and answer session concluded the event.

“I’m getting a lot of myths dispelled,” Sean Fox, a freshman computer engineering major, said, “If I hadn’t come tonight I still would be ignorant about Muslim culture and beliefs.”

“Events like this show you what the truth really is,” Wood said.

“These are things you don’t hear about much and it’s a good way to bring the community together,” Clark said.

At the end of the night as attendees flooded out, stomachs and heads alike digesting, Mikal Abdul-Mateen voiced his feelings about the event.

“I think it went real good. I got some good comments and everyone is leaving smiling,” Abdul-Mateen said, “I’m impressed.”

“I hope they walk away with full stomachs.” Salih Abdul-Mateen said laughing, “No, I hope it opens the door to get people thinking. Before people start judging I hope they recognize it’s deeper than black and white. Everybody is different and there are so many different things that make up a person.”

Staff writer Jim Sojourner can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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