UW Muslim Students Association celebrates Ramadan with a heart
Islam: Removing the Veil, Revealing the Truth

By Jessica Pham

   Islam which means ‘peace through submission to God’, is one the oldest monotheistic religions after Christianity and Judaism. It is also one of the most widely
practiced, with 1.5 billion followers worldwide. The religion of Islam and the Islamic laws have influenced empires and kingdoms both in Africa and in the
Middle East, yet despite the richness of Islamic history and culture, it is one of the least understood religions.
   Sadly, in the Western world, Islam has become a dirty word, and being a Muslim which in Arabic means ‘anyone who has submitted to the will of God’, has
become synonymous with being a terrorist. With the September 11 attacks, increased hostilities between the Middle East and the West, and the recent attacks in
Mumbai, Islam has again been cast in a negative light. Many people in the West think of Islam as a religion that teaches and encourages violence against the
so-called infidels or those who are not Muslims. While the media should be doing more to educate people about Islam and separate the radicals from the
everyday Muslims, this isn’t happening. In articles written in various newspapers by those proclaiming they know about Islam, fear and hate mongering and the
lack of space for Muslims to speak on these issues is problematic.
   Tarek Mohammed Elgindi, the president of the Muslim Student Association at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, understands the problems Muslims face all
too well. “I find that in talking to students, two of the biggest misconceptions about Islam are of course terrorism and oppression of women wearing the veil,” he
said.
   Terrorism has found itself linked with Islam, with the press, and terrorists pulling passages out of the Koran that supposedly state Muslims are supposed to kill all
non-believers. Yet, acts of terrorism are strictly forbidden, as Islam’s purpose is to bring peace to all societies, Muslim or not. A prominent example of this is
Jihad, which has been misrepresented to mean a ‘holy war.’ This is not the case. Jihad refers to the inner conflict that a Muslim faces when trying to submit to
the word of God or other personal conflicts such as egoism or abstinence from alcohol.  
Despite this, misconceptions about what Jihad means or the Koran’s stance on terrorism remain.         
   “Islam is a widely practiced religion,” Elgindi said. “Do people really think that 1.2 billion followers believe in terrorism or hate the West? The terrorists that are
doing this are not true followers of Islam and are just using the Koran to justify their wrongdoings; this is what the Muslim Student Association wants people to
understand.”  
   This also applies to the veil and the treatment of women in Islam. In the West, the veil or the hijab as it’s called in Arabic is seen by many as a symbol of
gender inequality. “People think that all women that wear the veil are forced to do so,” Elgindi said. “For many women, wearing the veil is a personal choice.
However, to say that every woman who wears it isn’t forced would be a lie. There are cases of women being made to cover up; however, Islam states that wearing
the veil shouldn’t be forced. It makes a woman no more pious than one who doesn’t.”
   In countries like Saudi Arabia where restrictions on women range from covering up, to being unable to drive a car, Islam’s stance on these issues must be
made clear. Women in Islam can own property, sue for divorce, obtain an education, and worship in a mosque. The oppression of women is not a true Islamic
teaching, and it’s important to understand even in Islamic societies, outside cultural practices do play a major part in governing the lives of both men and
women.
   Here at the University of Wisconsin, the Muslims Student Association holds several events on campus, “Our goal is to show people that Muslims are like
everyone else and not be afraid of the ideology or the people,” Elgindi said. “The events we hold are informative, social and cultural to increase interaction
between Muslims and non Muslims.”
   One such event was the Fast – a- Thon, held in September to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Held during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan
requires Muslims to fast, abstaining from food, drink, sex, and bad actions. Ramadan lasts for thirty days, although people can eat at the end of each day. The
purpose of the fast is to teach Muslims about patience and sacrifice and to devote more time for prayer to Allah.
   Although the Muslim Student Association has worked hard to put on events and will be putting on more with other student groups such as the Black Student
Union, and the Multicultural Student Coalition, Elgindi thinks that the University needs to be more supportive of Muslims on campus.
“Muslim students have felt a need to constantly defend their religion and while the Muslim Student Association has helped, the University should try to work with
us,” Elgindi said. “There are about 50 active Muslim students on campus, but compared to 40,000 students, it isn’t much. When we come and ask for support, the
University needs to give it to us to get rid of the negative misconceptions.”
   It is very important, especially since the University has allowed guest speakers such as David Horowitz a well known anti-Islamic conservative commentator to
speak earlier this year as well as Robert Spencer who spoke on Islamo-Facism.
   There needs to be a balance when it comes to educating the public about Islam. “Many of these people that talk about Islam don’t practice the religion, they
are not a part of the culture, this is a problem when they proclaim they know everything,” Elgindi said. “…Islam is a complicated religion, with both good and
bad, just like Christianity. To say that all Muslims are bad or terrorists opens the doors for prejudice and oppression.”
   The West still has a long way to go in learning about Islam and accepting a very old and widespread religion. The negative associations and misconceptions
will end only when people put aside their irrational fears. Communication and dialogue are the keys to understanding and moving forward. It needs to be made
clear that Islam is not the problem; the Koran is not the problem, the extremist terrorists who use the Koran to do their evil deeds are the ones that are dangerous.
They are not true followers of a religion that preaches peace and prosperity for all, Muslims or non-Muslims alike.
   To get involved or learn more about the Muslim Student Association, please go to their web site:
www.msa.rso.wisc.edu/index.html.
The Muslim Student Association (MSA) Fast-A-Thon raises money for local food pantries; Members of MSA who hosted the Fast-A-Thon; Serving up food and
breaking the fast at the end of Ramadan                                                           
       — Photos provided by MSA