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UA Muslims: Ramadan not understood

By Cassie Blombaum
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 7, 2005
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Ramadan is a time for fasting, reflection and family, but some Muslim students said they feel the monthlong fast is misunderstood because people and media outside the religion sometimes stereotype Islam as a whole.

Khaqan Sikander, a pre-business sophomore and vice president of the Muslim Student Association, said Ramadan is unknown to many people.

"I just think they don't know as much as they could know," Sikander said.

In order to inform the public about Ramadan, the Muslim Student Association hosts an annual Fast-A-Thon, where non-Muslims can participate in a daylong fast, Sikander said.

But many non-Muslims still misunderstand the religion partly because of media bias, Sikander said.

"How can you say that we are being properly represented?" Sikander asked. "If I hear the word 'Muslim' on TV, the next thing I hear is something about a threat or suicide bombing."

Miriam Hoda, a physiology senior and student coordinator of the Muslim Student Association, said she feels some people see Islam as foreign and strange.

"It is easy for people to fear and hate something that they don't really know about," Hoda said.

People within Western culture continue to stereotype Islam even though Muslims make up about one-fifth of the world's population, Hoda said.

As of July, about 1 percent of the United State's 295 million citizens consider themselves Muslim, according to the CIA World Fact Book.

About 19.9 percent of the world's 6 billion people are of Islamic faith, according to the CIA World Fact Book.

Although the number of Muslims is substantial, many perceive Muslims to be perpetrators of violence, Hoda said, but this is untrue.

After the bombings in New York and in London, Hoda said she received countless e-mails from Muslim groups condemning the violence.

"I think that Muslims have been denouncing radical behavior time and time again, whenever we have the chance," Hoda said.

Sarah Dehaybi, a pre-physiology junior and president of the Muslim Student Association, said she feels the Muslim community could do more to speak out against stereotypes and fanaticism.

"Rather than avoid and ignore the problems of society, Muslims should confront racial and religious biases in a positive manner, developing friendships and organizing programs promoting change," Dehaybi said.

Zachariah Azar, Muslim Student Association activities chair and Near Eastern studies graduate student, said he believes Muslims have continuously denounced terrorism, but media coverage does not reflect this.

"All we see are Muslims characterized as terrorist fanatics," Azar said. "This needs to change."

Mohyeddin Abdulaziz, director of Information Technology at the James E. Rogers College of Law, agreed that sometimes the media does portray Islam unfairly.

"Unfortunately often many publications, radio and TV stations become platforms for anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice," Abdulaziz said.

Yaseen Noorani, assistant professor of Near Eastern studies, also agreed.

"(Islam) only appears in the media in association with negative circumstances, crimes committed by Muslims, etc.," Noorani said. "Muslims constantly speak out against (these stereotypes), but they are not given much opportunity to

appear in print or on television."

Because of these misinterpretations, Azar said many international Muslim students at the UA have abandoned their studies and have stayed in their home countries.

"Their families were worried for their security and safety here in the U.S.A.," Azar said, adding that he wishes people would understand the true nature of the Islamic religion.

The purpose of Islam itself is to spread peace and the respect for humanity, a topic that is very important during Ramadan, said Islamic religious minister of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Imam Shamshad Nasir of Chino, Calif.

"Islam's message is a universal message, its teaching is a universal teaching," Nasir said. "Dignity, respect and honor for humanity are the main goals."

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