McSA speakers discuss faith, social activism

Shane McKeon, Reporter

About 150 people filled Harris Hall on Thursday night for the Muslim-cultural Student Association’s fall speaker event, during which two guest lecturers discussed the overlap between social justice and faith.

The event featured Tavis Smiley, a host of PBS and Public Radio International shows, and Sheik Omar Suleiman, an Islamic studies scholar.

Suleiman spoke first, discussing the link between activism and religion.

“Faith has become a way to deal with your problems, but it’s no longer a way to deal with the world’s problems,” Suleiman said. “And that’s a huge problem.”

He spoke specifically about his views on social justice as a Muslim, particularly in light of the recent rise of the Islamic State group. Many of the group’s recruits, Suleiman said, come from countries dominated by “political quietism,” where citizens have few outlets to express discontent.

“The greatest form of jihad, and yes, I used the j-word, the greatest form of jihad is to speak a word of truth in the face of an oppressor,” Suleiman said. “And when you take that away from people, you’re going to breed extremism.”

The United States bears some responsibility for that extremism, Suleiman said.

“When we look at the creation of ISIS, I mean, President Obama is the fourth consecutive president to bomb Iraq,” Suleiman said. “When you bomb people into the Stone Age, you can’t be surprised when they act like they’re in the Stone Age.”

In his address to the crowd, Smiley drew on his new book about Martin Luther King, Jr. Smiley called on students to “redeem the soul of this country and to save this very democracy.”

“The system is not going to just change itself,” Smiley said. “To quote Dr. King, ‘Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability.’ We have to be deliberate about the change that we want to see.”

Both speakers touched on recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, when they discussed social justice. Suleiman encouraged Muslim students to care about the protests.

“Ferguson is a Muslim cause,” he said. “It brought tears to my eyes to see the tear gas cans that were used. They’re the same as the ones used in Palestine.”

McCormick senior Luqman Azhari, McSA’s secretary, told The Daily the speaker event was one of the group’s biggest of the year.

Azhari said although the group’s original purpose was to bring Muslim students together, it has since taken on a larger role, offering programming to both Muslim and non-Muslim students.

The speakers ended the event with a Q-and-A moderated by political science Prof. Wendy Pearlman, who has written two books about the Middle East.

Twitter: @Shane_McKeon