“Our country is supposed to be the ‘Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,’ not the ‘Land of the Oppressed and the Home of the Afraid,’” said Rev. Holly Ulmer, Chaplain for United Campus Ministry at this university.

“We are called to be brave so that we can be free. That is the true America. The kind of America that inspires hope – the America that brings all of us together across our differences.”

University of Maryland faculty, students and staff delved into “Understanding Islam and the Experience of Muslim Students,” a discussion organized by the Division of Student Affairs Tuesday afternoon.

The event, held in Stamp’s Charles Carroll Room, featured a presentation delivered by the university’s Muslim Chaplain, Tarif Shraim, who dissected the struggles and discrimination Muslims face across the country, focusing in particular on students’ experiences on college campuses.

For this university in particular, some Muslim students feel comfortable practicing Islam on campus due to the liberal, accepting environment.

“I think it’s easy to practice because we are provided with a prayer room. I think, as you do in college, you kind of grow into who you are, and I think that helps me as a person feel closer to my faith,” said sophomore math and philosophy major, Sarah Eshera.

This, however, doesn’t take away from the turmoil occurring elsewhere in the country.

Shraim touched on various aspects of the Islamic faith, including those that are true to the religion such as Muslim women’s wearing of the hijab, free will, the different interpretations of jihad, as well as extremist violence and unjust media coverage and perception.

Shraim explained that in Muslim culture, the wearing of the hijab is a symbol of a woman’s dedication to her faith, as well as modesty; it is not a form of disenfranchisement or oppression over women as the media often portrays. It is entirely up to the woman to decide whether or not she chooses to wear her headscarf.

“It is a fundamental teaching in Islam to be granted free will. We make a choice of how much we want to practice, what we want to wear, how we think and what kind of questions we ask,” Shraim said to his audience. “At the end the day, faith is a journey; it cannot be forced.”

“For me, [wearing a hijab] is a constant reminder that there is something greater than myself,” Eshera said. “Its purpose is for modesty, so you don’t pay as much attention to how you look, but who you are in terms of interactions with other people.”

The presentation continued to debunk the skewed misinterpretations of jihad as “holy war,” which has come to be used as justification for terroristic violence that is often associated with Islamic culture and practice. According to Shraim, jihad is translated as a “struggle,” not a “holy war” at all.

Unfortunately, Islam is victim to having the skewed values—such as the various interpretations of jihad—of a select extremist group negatively alter the world’s perception of the religion as a whole.

“Killing in Islam is strictly prohibited. ‘Killing one human being is like killing all humankind,’” Shraim said to his audience, referencing a verse in the Qur’an. “Blood is sacred. Souls are sacred. Human beings are sacred. So for someone to say that Islam condones killing is very offensive.”

A surprising FBI statistic revealed 96 percent of terrorist attacks in the United States are by white Christian males. That being considered, Shraim asked his audience, “Is it fair to actually say that just because these crimes are committed by white Christian males, Christianity has a problem or that God has a problem? Absolutely not. It is unfair.”

Furthermore, “to assume that Muslims are guilty because of the acts of the few is as unfair as accusing any religion of being criminal because of the acts of a few people.”

Because of this misconception, Muslims have been unjustly labeled with a negative connotation in American society. As of late, there have been a spike in hate crimes toward the Muslim community, including the vandalizing of Mosques, hateful Tweets and Facebook posts, blatant discrimination and even brutal violence and persecution.

Some students unaccustomed to this culture found themselves surprised with how much it is filled with hate, and after the event, concluded that ending persecution starts with relating to a group’s similarities rather than stressing over their differences.

Freshman biology major Desire Tadesse, who is from Ethiopia—a country where Muslims are treated without discrimination—said the idea of persecution and hatred toward one group of people is irrational and unheard of.

“For me, I grew up in a place where Muslim people are treated the same way with no discrimination. So when people say ‘Muslims go through this [persecution in America],’ I’m like ‘Oh, really? That’s terrible. Why would people do that?’ This [event] opened up [the idea] that ‘Oh, Muslims are treated this way,’” she said.

“To judge people’s way of believing and way of faith … is wrong. I think that it is wrong because I can relate to it, so I think that people at the UMD campus, whenever they meet a Muslim person, should try to relate to them [as a Christian], because at the end of the day, things are very common. We have very basic beliefs of love and they believe in Jesus, Abraham and Moses and grounds that we can relate. We can stop the discrimination and understand [them] better.”

The theme that resonated with attendees after the conclusion of the lecture and small group discussions is the idea of not only being accepting of others, but rather respecting of others, as well.

As Rev. Ulmer said, it is important “as young people [to] never underestimate how you can help older generations learn to more fully embrace diversity.”

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of mobauser0’s Pixabay account.

Jordan Stovka is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at jstovka@icloud.com.

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