The fast of Ramadan began last week for Muslims with not only sacrifices, but also the intention to educate USF students about their religion. The 30-day religious observance began last week at the same time as Islamic Awareness Week, and Muslim organizations used the two events to change misconceptions some people may have about Muslims.
Besides educating colleagues, the Ramadan fast, a 30-day period when Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours and abstain from sexual activities, was a time for the Muslim Student Association and Sisters United Muslim Association to unite, said Amal Kurdi, president of SUMA.
“It’s nice to know we’re all there for the same purpose,” Kurdi, said. “We pray together, and it brings us a feeling of togetherness.”
During Ramadan, Muslims can eat a morning meal if they wake up before dawn. Then every evening Muslims break the fast by eating a meal. This is called “iftar.” Some choose to gather at a mosque in the area, which holds an evening meal for the community every night during Ramadan. Others choose to break the fast at home with family or friends.
Kurdi said that during Ramadan she spends more time than usual reading the Koran, the Muslims’ Islamic holy book, and praying. She said the extra worship during the month keeps her going for another year.
“It’s a time to get closer to God,” Kurdi said. “It’s a period of atonement,” said Rose Munoz, president of MSA and vice president of SUMA. “I think of my life and God more during the day than I usually do.”
Munoz also said that fasting isn’t punishment. Rather, it shows obedience to an order in the Koran.
Although Ramadan has occurred at the same time each year, the nationwide recognition of Islam Awareness Month was moved several years ago from November to February. Since then, USF’s Muslim organizations have celebrated a week in November in order to recognize Islamic Awareness once each semester.
In recognition of the religious event, Muslim student organizations spoke to students passing through the Bull Market and the breezeway near Cooper Hall to tell them about religious traditions in Islam. Members of both groups said they feel that others see Muslims as violent people since last year’s terrorist attacks.
“Islam itself means peace,” said Kurdi.
Kurdi added that people are wrong to think Muslims oppress women. People who practice Islam, Kurdi said, don’t rule what some may think of as Muslim countries. Those governments enforce laws that require a woman to walk behind her husband at all times and to never be alone with any man except for her husband, even if it’s her brother.
“That’s governments and politics, not religion,” Kurdi said.Kurdi added that Islam gave rights to women in other countries, such as the ability to vote or keep their last name, long before Western countries did.
Another reason some people may assume Muslim women are treated differently are the head coverings they wear, the “Hijab.” However, Kurdi said she likes wearing the garment because it immediately identifies her as a Muslim.
“No one makes us wear the Hijab,” Kurdi said. “It’s an individual choice.”
Kurdi said Muslim women choose to wear the Hijab because it is a commandment in the Koran, and because wearing it shows modesty and respect.
“It also allows us to resist pressures to conform to styles,” Kurdi said. “It shows that there’s more to a person than appearance.”
The groups also focused on telling students about their perspectives on social issues, such as abortion or alcohol use. SUMA spent Tuesday showing the multi-cultural side of Islam. They wore cultural clothing and had food from other countries.
“Muslims aren’t just Arabs, they’re from all over the world,” said Munoz.
Wednesday was the first day of Ramadan, so both organizations spent the afternoon talking about Ramadan. They spent Thursday talking about the “wounds of the Muslim world,” such as the massacres in India and Palestine. And throughout the week they passed out pamphlets about Islam describing the misunderstood concepts about the religion. They also distributed free Korans. Both groups held meetings, and had an open prayer where anyone could participate.
“Ignorance will always lead to problems,” said Hassan Sultan, a member of the Muslim Student Association. “If we make others aware of the truth, they’ll have the correct knowledge.”
“We wanted to make ourselves available for people to ask questions,” Kurdi said.
“If we changed a few people’s opinions about our beliefs, we did good.”