Muslims promote faith

A semester after University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg voiced a zero-tolerance policy against race-related intimidation, Muslim students said they feel safe on campus as they prepare for this year’s Islam Awareness Week.

Students urged Trachtenberg to issue a formal statement last spring reiterating GW’s policy against hate crimes because of international events, including the war in Iraq. About 300 university presidents also signed a similar statement denouncing anti-Semitism last fall.

Several Muslim students said they felt increased discrimination after Sept. 11, 2001, but the policy helped promote acceptance.

“I feel that campus is a lot safer due to the enforcement of the policy,” said master’s student Raza Cheema, a Muslim. “GW is actually a microcosm of what the real world should be – a place where everyone can communicate openly, live in peace with a positive atmosphere and be able to educate themselves intellectually and socially.”

The Muslim Students’ Association is in the midst of its annual Islam Awareness Week, which began Sunday and continues through Saturday night. Events throughout the week include guest lecturers, a movie night, a barbecue and evening of entertainment. Speaker Imam Abdul Malik Johari will talk Monday at 7:30 p.m. in Marvin Center 307 about human rights in Islam, and a former member of the Turkish Parliament will speak on “Democracy, Islam and Turkey” from a woman’s perspective Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Marvin Center Amphitheater.

“In that the MSA at GW is confident enough to organize a week- long event such as IAW, I think that the Muslim students on campus feel quite comfortable,” MSA President Omar Matadar said. “Yet, at the same time, the existence of an event such as IAW is in itself a sign that the Muslim students of this campus do not feel as though they are understood properly by many members of the GW community and that they wish to combat the stereotypes that are presented about Islam and Muslims.”

Members of the Muslim community said they hope all GW students will participate in the week’s events to prevent stereotyping and become more accepting.

“Islamic Awareness Week is just one of the many ways that GW’s MSA is attempting to assuage the misconceptions that some people still hold against not only the religion, but about Muslims in general,” junior Halima Karim said. “People need to understand that ominous figures such as Osama bin Laden are not representative of the whole population.”

The Muslim Students’ Association also hands out packets at a weekly information table outside the Marvin Center.

While no anti-Muslim hate crimes have been reported at GW in recent years, Islamic students on other campuses have been victimized after September 11. In spring 2002, Muslim prayer rugs were drenched with pig blood at the UCLA Medical Center, according to the Daily Bruin.

“We often hear of hate crimes against Arab-Americans and Muslims occurring outside of the GW community and those certainly affect how safe Arab-Americans and Muslims feel on and off campus,” Matadar said.

GW officials said they are working to make sure Muslim and Arab students continue to feel comfortable on campus.

“GW as a community is very embracing of Muslim students,” Dean of Students Linda Donnels said. “They are a part of our diverse fabric.”

Michael Tapscott, director of the Multicultural Student Services Center, called discrimination against students of Muslim and Arab descent “ignorant and hateful.”

“It shouldn’t be that way,” Tapscott said. “That is why one of the goals of this department is to continue to bring awareness to any issue of this nature.”

A full schedule of Islam Awareness Week events is available at http://www.gwu.edu/~msa.

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