Student group explores what it means to be Muslim

Logo of Fisher's new Muslim Student Alliance Association

By Crystal Myers staff writer

On Monday April 8th, Fisher’s newly founded Muslim Student Alliance Association held a meeting to discuss, “What is Islam?”

The word in and of itself simply means “submission to God,” but the key idea of the discussion was to build understanding and clear up common misperceptions.

The presentation began with an oxymoron: “Arabs/Muslim Americans.” The presenters said  the terms are not synonymous, rather a person can be an Arab and not a Muslim or vice versa. Arab refers to a common language and culture, whereas Muslim specifically refers to one’s religion.

Statistically, only one in four Arab Americans are Muslim; the majority tend to be Christian. There are around 2 million to 3 million Muslims in the United States, 25 percent of whom are people who have chosen to convert.

What are the beliefs of Islam?

There are five which are commonly referred to as pillars as they provide the essential support to the Muslim faith.

The first is salaah, meaning prayer. Muslims pray during five set times of the day. Before prayer they perform a ritual cleansing called ablution. Prayer itself has set prostration (kneeling down) and standing movements; a video was provided to show how this type of prayer is typically performed.

Another pillar is shahaadah, the declaration of faith, which affirms a belief in one God, taweed. This is the first chapter, al-fatihah, of the Quran, the holy scripture of Islam which is meant to be listened to. The meeting included a recitation or tajwid, where the voice takes on a melodic intonation.

Next is charitable giving. Zakat is when a Muslim donates 2.5 percent of their surplus to those in need. One way this is instituted in practice is during the holiday of Eid al-Adha in which a lamb is typically sacrificed with its additional meat feeding multiple families.

Each year Muslims fast, called sawm, during the month-long period of Ramadan. This means from sunrise until sunset they do not eat or drink anything. In the evenings eating can become a communal affair with everyone finally able to partake after sunset. This year, Ramadan begins on May 6, which is also when final grades come out at Fisher, and ends on June 3. The end of Ramadan marks the celebration Eid al-Fitr.

The last pillar of faith, hajj, is a pilgrimage to Mecca. This location is special for Muslims because it is where their prophet Muhammad was born. It is also where he later returned to restore the kabbah. This cube shaped space is believed to have originated with Abraham and was built by him to worship the one God. Later people turned away from this belief and began paganism, worshipping many gods.

That is until Muhammad received revelation from God and founded Islam, restoring the kabbah. A brief synopsis of Muhammad’s life was given, including how he became an orphan, later married Khadija and eventually became the final prophet. Today he is cited as one of the most influential historical figures.

Muslims today

Hot issues and topic areas around Muslim beliefs in contemporary society were also addressed. The hijab was illustrated in its many cultural forms (tchador, niqab, burqa) along with the greater concept of modesty. In Western society there is often a common misconception that Muslim women are oppressed due to this explicit privatization of a women’s sexuality. Alternatively this is viewed as being something for in the home or private sphere versus the street or public domain. Sexuality should not be the defining feature for society of a women’s value.

Another commonly misunderstood term associated with Islam, is that of jihad. While the media exclusively covers jihad in the context of war and fighting, the real meaning of jihad is that of a struggle in which you must exert effort to overcome. This could be as simple as jihad for writing a final paper, to jihad for forgiving someone who has hurt your feelings.

MSAA has plans for fall 2019 to incorporate more programming and opportunities to engage the larger campus community. This first program gave all who attended a great deal of knowledge accompanied by visual and video to really drive important concepts home. But the most meaningful piece was the ability to have a discussion and ask questions, offering a glimpse into what it is like to be a Muslim and how the faith is a way of life for practicing students.

If you missed Monday’s session, another will be offered on Friday April 12th from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in Nursing 101.

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