In a broad attempt to reach out to UTM students, the Muslim Students Association (MSA) explored the idea of faith and God within a secular and scientific society, holding events for three days all around campus last week.
Beginning on February 3, the theme of Islam in an Age of Reason featured prominently in Islam Awareness Week (IAW), particularly in the choice of topics for each evenings lecture: Why God? Why faith? Why Islam? The Student Centre was transformed into a celebration of Islamic culture and religion, with volunteers handing out thousands of flyers and hundreds of Korans.
Each year, the MSA selects a theme for IAW that is appropriate both to the context of our campus and what we predict to be the interest of our students, explained MSA president Mohammed Ashour. We have found that a growing number of students and academicians tend to frown upon the concept of organized religion, believing that religions are either deluding or outright maladaptive — our objective was to address this misconstrued judgment. This is not an attempt to rationalize religion, Ashour insists, because religion is already rational in itself.
Ashour praised his volunteers and coordinators for working towards making IAW a success, as well as the speakers, Dr. Munir El-Kassem, Imam Shabir Ally, and Dr. Katherine Bullock. There were many healthy debates with numerous students during the events, as well as during and after the evening lectures that were held on all three days, Ashour added. Our goal was to educate the general student population about the complementary nature of religion in general, and Islam in particular with science and reason, and we do feel that weve accomplished that.
When asked why he was volunteering for IAW, Ridwan Wadhera, a fourth-year English specialist, said he was offering his time because he believes in Islam and in Islam Awareness Week.
I try to take advantage of any opportunity which allows me to show my love to the creator of the heavens and earth, and Islamic Awareness Week is one of those opportunities. After a brief but lively debate about the nature of existence with The Medium – it was agreed to disagree — Wadhera returned to handing out leaflets to passersby.
The idea of being Muslim post- 9/11 was a recurring point among some attendees, such as Murrium Zaheer, a first-year English student, who welcomed the opportunity to discuss this. In the modern 9/11 world many people have stereotypes about Islam which are false [and] it is important for people to know about the different cultures that exist, Zaheer remarked. It is also important for people to respect other religions as independent beliefs of faith. It was nice seeing many people come together to learn about Islam.
Third-year anthropology student Steven Zhou agreed with some of those sentiments: We here in the West have experienced this post- 9/11, so it helps to know about Islam, its pluralistic characteristics, its contribution to the renaissance, its influence on European thought, and the effects that Western colonialism has had on it. Both Zhou and Zaheer point out that building awareness is an important part of showing a positive and peaceful side of Islam, especially considering the kind of discourse the religion is often exposed to in the mainstream media, such as Fox News.
In Imam Allys Why faith? discussion on Wednesday evening, he suggests that the idea of secularism attacking religion is shown in Richard Dawkins The God Delusion, which attempts to discredit faith as a rational means of existing in an uncertain universe. Faith is something that cannot be proven, which we accept nonetheless, Ally points out. Faith should not contradict evidence though, but rather should build upon it, following the same direction. Essentially the suggestion here is that one should hold a belief until it is disproven, and this tends to conflict with traditional Western philosophy, which assumes that no belief is valid without empirical evidence to support it.
The role of morality in an increasingly secular society is certainly a contentious one, even in Canada, where laws and traditions that are based upon Judeo-Christian values are now being questioned and sometimes repealed — rules regarding abortion is one example. IAW is playing an important part in educating UTM students in an effort to minimize ignorance and increase awareness of Islamic culture.