Understanding Islamic faith

With the recent controversy surrounding the proposed Park 51 community center and mosque near Ground Zero, many believe the U.S. has revealed a growing post-9/11 wave of Islamophobia. Even thousands of miles away, Marquette students see the growing issue and weigh options to help end intolerance.

Islamophobia is not new — it is just becoming more mainstream, according to Irfan Omar, an associate professor of theology at Marquette.

In a speech made last week, President Barack Obama said the U.S. needs to be clear — it is not at war with Islam.

Omar said it is important to listen to what the president is saying.

“‘We,’ as Americans, includes Muslims,” Omar said. “Muslims are as much part of the American landscape as any other people. A vast majority of Muslim Americans are either African-Americans, whites or descendants of immigrants.”

Omar does not personally know of any Islamophobic incidents on campus, but says the sentiment begins with people not having enough information.

“Fear is rooted in ignorance,” Omar said. “It is important that people engage in programs that provide opportunities for mutual understanding that allow us to communicate what are the facts of Islam.”

Humza Ansari, treasurer of the Muslim Student Association, said he has not faced any intolerance on campus, but people have said derogatory things to him off campus, such as when people call him a terrorist or “ignorantly belittle (his) faith.”

“A lot of it has to do with not knowing what Islam is about and the commonalities that Islam shares with both Christianity and Judaism,” Ansari said.

Lillian Figg-Franzoi, secretary of the MSA, said in an e-mail that in America, Muslims are generally viewed as being foreign, anti-modern and outside the “hip” American culture, all of which makes most Muslims seem unapproachable.

Figg-Franzoi said it is not just Muslims who deal with intolerance, but rather that all minority groups must deal with the pressure of being a symbol for the entire group.

“The worst intolerance is assuming that one Muslim represents all Muslims or that all supposedly typical views of Muslims are the opinions of one Muslim,” said Figg-Franzoi, a senior in the College of Art & Sciences. “People need to understand, first and foremost, the diversity of Islamic experiences for all Muslims; and this is the same for all minorities.”

Tim McCahill, a junior in the College of Business Administration, said the public opposition to Park 51 has taken the sheet off racism.

“Sadly, Islam is being associated with terrorism; it’s a conclusion that people are going to make,” McCahill said. “It would be helpful if government officials showed tolerance toward building the mosque and (toward) Islam because then Americans might accept it and possibly enjoy it.”

Ansari said one step toward ending Islamophobia would be to have more interfaith gatherings and dinners to discuss differences and similarities within all faiths.

He said it would be helpful if students engaged more with Campus Ministry and MSA and attended events that could help them experience Muslim culture and values.

Ansari said attending a Catholic university as a Muslim student has been an enlightening experience.

“It can be a little intimidating at first, seeing the masses of people coming out of Gesu,” said Ansari, a sophomore in the College of Health Sciences. “But it is nice to be a part of such a spiritual environment.”

Omar said we have to realize that MSA can only do so much. He said university administration must also do its part.

“We need to create more educational programs that have inter-religious dialogue to highlight the shared traditions and common goals that all religious communities share,” Omar said.

Figg-Franzoi said she has noticed society is already taking a step in the right direction.

“In universities, Islamic studies is a growing field, which helps with good, dedicated and really decent education found in scholarly inquiry,” Figg-Franzoi said. “There are also plenty of student organizations that help with education about Islam to the general public, as well as supporting Muslims.”

Marquette students can help by just engaging in conversations, Figg-Franzoi said.

“Talk about and discuss topics related to religious freedom, religious tolerance or even the very efficacy of ‘religious freedom’ in America today,” Figg-Franzoi said. “More often than not, you’ll come away from that kind of conversation as a person more willing to reflect.”