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Guest Commentary: Cultural immersion is a valuable learning experience


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Faisal El Azzouzi
Muslim Student Association
By Faisal El Azzouzi
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Salam Aalaikoom, Wildcats! I hope you all had a nice and productive summer vacation and you are ready to hit the books and nourish your brains with knowledge! Knowledge is what we are all here for, and acquiring it is what distinguishes our species. So this welcoming letter is also a call for students to gain new enthusiasm for cultural understanding, which cannot be found solely in books or during lectures, but also through a dialogue with people of different religious, racial and cultural backgrounds. I cannot overemphasize the importance of cultural understanding, especially considering the fact that many people nowadays accept cultural stereotypes without really having firsthand contact with the people concerned.

In the university's small community, students can promote local debates and events in order to reach a higher level of cultural understanding. The Hillel Foundation and the Muslim Student Association, for example, joined forces before the beginning of the semester to organize community service and cultural events that hopefully will stress the similarities, rather than the differences, of Jews and Muslims.

As the cultural officer of the Muslim Student Association, I would like to use my position to bring students together and present a fresh image of Islam that is different from what people are exposed to by this country's media. The MSA was founded in 1963 at the University of Illinois and now stretches all over the United States and Canada. Our newsletter, which is a part of our program to reach out the community, will be printed regularly during the semester.

In addition to this, the Muslim Student Association is planning an outreach program to help students discover the truth about Islam by having weekly tables on the UA Mall and by screening awareness films and documentaries about Islam. In the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast, we will be addressing the hunger issue in our community and helping to raise funds for a local homeless shelter.

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Every ideology has something to offer. If humans collectively realize this, we won't be so mired in our own ideology.
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There are many other cultural and religious clubs on and off campus that are scheduling events to help citizens from different countries interact. The International Students Association represents some 2,200 international students from more than 114 countries. The ISA is a very resourceful organization that bridges the gap between internationals and Americans.

The International Friends Program is an off-campus group that promotes friendship between interested members of the community and international students. Also, this season UApresents will be showcasing a performance series titled "Our Shared Earth." The program will emphasize peace and reconciliation by exhibiting artists from all over the world.

Interacting with different people from different backgrounds helped me recognize the flaws and the highlights of my own culture and mentality. Like everyone else, I was only exposed to one way of looking at the world, but after traveling and interacting, I started recognizing that every single ideology, whether communist, socialist, capitalist or Islamist, contributes to human civilization.

For example, Islam revived the notion of unity, regardless of race or ethnicity. In the Quran, God emphasizes that there is no difference between peoples, other than their level of submission to God.

Every ideology has something to offer. If humans collectively realize this, we won't be so mired in our own ideology. Together, we can come up with a universal system of understanding and compassion.

I would like to share a translation from the Holy Quran that addresses this point:

Oh you humans! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you intonations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God's sight is the greatest of you in piety. God is All Knowing, All Aware. (Chambers13)

Faisal El Azzouzi is the cultural officer of the Muslim Student Association. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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