Last week on campus, the Muslim Students’ Association hosted Islam Awareness Week, in an effort to educate and engage Muslim and non-Muslim students across NC State’s campus. Events held throughout the week included Fast-a-Thon, Prayer on the Lawn and an Art Expo.
While the events drew out many students from different backgrounds, some online commenters viewed the events as part of a broader plot to convert NC State students to Islam. This rhetoric is not only dangerous, but also unfounded; the constantly perpetuated narrative of Muslims as the enemy is not only obsolete, but also counterproductive to goals of educating and uniting all members of the Wolfpack.
Several commenters expressed disdain for the National Muslims Students’ Association, accusing the group of actively proselytizing, or converting students, through guilt, manipulation and bribery. Historically, the National Muslim Students’ Association is a nonprofit organization tasked with supporting Muslim students throughout their college years. Each chapter, including the one at NC State, operate under the regulations of the host university. It has not and never has been a proselytizing organization.
All the events hosted during Islam Awareness Week were voluntary and educational. No one was forced to pray or participate in anything they were uncomfortable with and even those who chose not to personally participate were welcome to attend and observe.
The Prayer on the Lawn drew several spectators, many of whom did not pray. Perhaps it was the visibility that bothered some, but educating and practicing your religion in public is hardly a crime. The idea that Muslim students are meant to hide their faith to appease those who do not share the same views is unacceptable and a double standard held only to religious minority groups on campus, as other religious organizations such as CRU and Colonial College are not subject to the same scrutiny, nor should they be.
Furthermore, the Muslim Students’ Association does engage in Da’wah, however it is not the sinister plot to convert unsuspecting college students. Da’wah is an Arabic word that means “to invite” or “to offer to share.” By inviting others to participate in Islam Awareness Week, members of MSA were opening a door for increased cultural and religious understanding cooperation — two things that are often in too short of a supply. If you considered the handing out of goodie bags that included information about the religion of Islam “bribery,” I suggest you revisit your definition or improve your resolve.
Specifically, the NC State chapter of MSA “strives to build unity through diversity and education,” by providing programs for students from all backgrounds to engage with Muslims on and off campus. These are goals that they checked off in all aspects of Islam Awareness Week, despite their critics.
As a campus, we must stop treating members of the Islamic community as the “other.” Although they practice a different faith, they must be able to practice, educate and engage those on campus without fear of misrepresentation or vilification, even from online trolls.