Goucher held its very first Islamic Awareness Week from March 25 to March 28. The week included a four-day event that involved a student panel, two guest speakers, and a film screening. First year student Samer Salem said he organized the event because there was “a lot of misguided anti-Islamic rhetoric [on campus],” he said. “I researched every college I applied to, but I knew it was going to be an issue on campus beforehand, and I still chose to attend for specific reasons. However, knowing it is an issue and being within the community are two different things … though I told myself I’m not allowed to complain because I was aware of the problem.”
During Islamic Awareness Week, Salem organized a panel of current and former Muslim students to discuss subjects such as their experiences growing up, their perspective on the religion and misconceptions of Muslims and Islam. He also brought in two speakers: Asma Hanif, who is the executive director of a woman home shelter in Baltimore, called Muslimat Al-Nisaa that serves domestically abused Muslim women and their children exclusively. The second speaker, Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat, specializes in inter-faith learning and is the founder and president of Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation that is aimed at creating a better world in promoting peace and collaboration. The movie shown was called “Circumstance” and focuses on a Muslim Iranian woman falling in love with another Muslim woman and the strife it causes within her family. Salem said he wanted to touch on as many topics as he could, as every Muslim comes from a different walk of life.
The event, unfortunately, was not as big of a success as Salem had pictured, yet he understood that for a student-created event, the response was appraisable. Around 22 students showed up for the first event and less than ten students showed up on the third night, however the final event had about 35 people. Salem noted that many students had said they were interested and would attend but never showed up. He also said that there wouldn’t be another “Islamic Awareness Week” in the future because of the lack of interest and the struggle to create the events.
In the process of organizing the week, Salem said he discovered that the events would require a security guard to be present although Goucher guidelines states that there needs to be a minimum of fifty people before a guard is needed. He was told that security was needed because of the “religious nature of the event” and that all religious gatherings required security no matter how many people attended. He noted never seeing security at any Hillel or Christian Fellowship events. In the end, the guards did not attend the event after their reasoning was questioned.
Goucher College does not have a Muslim student group on campus because there are not enough students who identify with Islam. According to Salem, there are only around six self-identifying Muslim students on campus including himself and many of those students come from international backgrounds and are nearing graduation. On the other hand, around 30 percent of Goucher’s student population is Jewish and there is a large population of students who are Christian.
Goucher used to offer a club named “Project Nur” (Nur means light) which was an interfaith group that promoted social justice and an environment of acceptance with mutual respect between Muslims and all respective communities. The club was disbanded in 2010 due to the lack of Muslim students and tension on campus. Goucher does offer a class called “Islamic Thought,” however it is only available every three years and there are no other classes focusing on the study of Islam or the experiences of Muslims, which is a widely-discussed topic in today’s global platform.
“It’s not just about Muslims or Islam,” Salem said. “Goucher has not done a good job intertwining multi-culturalism and religion on this campus for a long time. There is an extreme bias towards one demographic, which I understand. Goucher labels itself with global principles, and if it does not educate their students on the perspective of cultural and religious compatibility in equality and fairness, then it cannot have these principles that the Goucher community prides itself on. It’s pretty hypocritical of Goucher’s mission and diversity statement.”
“You can’t break stone with a fork,” Salem said after being asked if he thought Goucher’s attitude could change. Salem also commented that planning the event was very time consuming and he would simply like to be able to complete his college years in peace.