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Muslim Students Association celebrates Islam Awareness Month

MSA members discuss community engagement efforts

<p>Students tabling as part of Islam Awareness Month.</p>

Students tabling as part of Islam Awareness Month.

The Muslim Students Association organized a series of outreach events during the month of April as part of Islam Awareness Month. Students have tabled at various locations on Grounds every Wednesday for the past eight weeks as part of “Islam Taught Me,” where they engaged with students to promote dialogue and answer questions about Islam.

Aseer Ahmad, MSA outreach chair and fourth-year College student, said these events have greatly helped to foster relationships with other CIOs as well as organizations outside the University.

For example, the MSA has partnered with the Jewish Leadership Council to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity’s Store and coordinated with the Sikh Student Association to help out at the Ronald McDonald House. They also held a brunch at a nearby mosque recently and invited members from local churches and synagogues to attend.

“This year has been really great for MSA. We finally received representation within the Minority Rights Coalition, and we’re actually the first religious CIO to have representation within this coalition,” Ahmad said.“This past year has been very troubling for many minority groups … We just want to show that the MSA stands by our fellow Hoos.”

The outreach events are open to all students, regardless of religious beliefs. Raisa Noshin, a second-year Engineering student, said the tabling has been very successful in reaching non-Muslim students.

“We’ve gotten questions like, just general curiosity about what the religion is, what kind of things the scripture says that maybe people have heard,” Noshin said. “We often get a lot of questions about terrorism in general, and just clarifying misconceptions about the religion that have been perpetuated by the media.”

Noshin said they have even had interactions with some of the University faculty during their tabling.

“We’ve had a couple of deans walk up to this table and tell us to keep up the good work,” Noshin said. “They were very encouraging, and so the administration has been really nice.”

Noshin said her transition to the University from Northern Virginia was a big adjustment, especially in regards to how she felt perceived by fellow students. She has been very involved in the MSA during her time here and was recently elected as the girls’ coordinator.

“People stare more and are just a little bit more hesitant to form relationships. The main adjustments I’ve made are just to be a little more receptive, to always try to have a smile on my face when I’m walking. It can be difficult with workloads increasing, but we try our best and we do stick together,” Noshin said. “I never got used to knowing every girl in a headscarf in my area because there were so many back home. But now, if I see one walking around, I probably know that person.”

First-year College student Faris Musa first became involved with the MSA this semester and said he realized it is a valuable resource for him.

“I started getting much more engaged, going to all these events and meeting all these wonderful people,” Musa said. “All these people of different cultures and different races are all united by this religion.”

Mariya Tayyab, outgoing president of MSA and fourth-year College student, has been involved since her first year, and said she has seen the organization grow and change over her time here.

“From when I started, numbers have definitely increased, and the Muslim community at U.Va. has become a lot more active in the MSA,” Tayyab said. “This was the first year we really actively tried to publicize [Islam Awareness Month] a lot more than we have in the past couple of years just from what I’ve seen. For example, we painted Beta Bride, the first time we’ve done that.”

Tayyab also spoke about the importance of the MSA’s role in educating others to create a more welcoming community and to help to prevent prejudices from persisting.

“I do think that there’s always occasionally some types of prejudice every once in awhile, but I think that’s also the point of having Islam Awareness Month to just teach people about Islam,” Tayyab said. “Once you learn about it, you are more knowledgeable and you’re less likely to have prejudice against Islam.”

Ibtesam Zahid, incoming president of MSA and third-year College student, said he hopes to continue promoting outreach events and fostering an atmosphere of unity both within and outside the MSA.

“My main goal in MSA, which really reflects in this month, is unity. Not only among the MSA itself and Muslims, but among everyone in Charlottesville, the Charlottesville Muslim community, every type of faith, every type of background,” Zahid said. “We want everyone to come out, be like a family and accept each other and just have someone to talk to.”