Fireside launches Islam Awareness Week

Christina Chaey

Students gathered for a fireside Monday night to discuss Muslim civil rights and how Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy impacts the Muslim community.

About 30 students gathered in the Allison Hall lounge to talk with Christina Abraham, civil rights director at the Chicago branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR is a national organization that hopes to enhance the understanding of Islam.

Abraham discussed the perception of Muslims in America, specifically in the post-Sept. 11 era, emphasizing that the work Muslims do today makes a lasting impression.

“We’re not just doing it for us,” Abraham said. “We’re doing it for whomever comes down the line next.”

The fireside is the first in a series of on-campus events promoting Islam Awareness Week 2008, which is hosted by the Muslim-cultural Students Association.

Several students were moved by the issues Abraham addressed.

“What struck me most is that we’re still in the civil rights movement,” said Hibah Yousuf, a Medill junior. “We still have to work on improvement because there will always be a group that will be discriminated against.”

Members of the Northwestern Chronicle stood at the door handing out fliers with various politicians’ comments about CAIR’s ties to Islamic extremism.

“I support Islam Awareness Week … but I am disappointed that the McSA chose CAIR to come and speak,” said Matt Albucher, a Medill sophomore and the Chronicle’s campus editor. “We wanted to make students aware of what has been said about CAIR.”

Abraham later dismissed the comments as rumors.

“These are people who think, ‘We don’t necessarily like what we’ve heard about (Muslims) … they’re a threat,'” said Abraham, who also discussed how negative stereotypes influence how Muslims see themselves.

“Muslims need to stop being so defensive about who they are,” she said.

Students left with the message that they need to take action to change negative perceptions of Muslims.

“We need to carry out the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. … and we need to carry it out in a way that is our own,” said Mohanned El-Natour, a McCormick senior and the chairman for the fireside.

Earlier on Monday, members of McSA handed out fliers with information about the Islamic faith at the Norris University Center, Technological Institute and The Rock.

Omar Katib, the executive vice president of McSA, said he is excited to raise awareness through the week’s events.

“We hope (students) will get a closer look at Muslims and Islam and get a better understanding of what Muslims are really all about,” the Weinberg senior said.

McSA will present three more events this week, starting with hip-hop performances and presentations by Chicago-based Muslim artists who will speak on how Islam influences their art. Wednesday’s fireside, entitled “Salaam, Shalom, Peace: Creating Interfaith Communities,” will discuss the importance of cooperation between religions.

On Thursday, Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, a Muslim-American scholar, will give the week’s keynote speech on the experiences of Muslims in America today.

“We’re pretty excited,” Katib said. “We’re hoping to see a lot of people.”

Reach Christina Chaey at [email protected]