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Division of Student Affairs

Staff gains insight on perspectives of Muslim students, staff members

Posted on Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Presenters and panelists at the recent program, “Islam: Insights and Realities,” shared their experiences with the University to inform staff, faculty and students on unique challenges of Muslims on campus.  They also had suggestions for actions that would make UNI a more welcoming place for Muslims. 

Terry Hogan, Vice President for Student Affairs, introduced the program with comments about the importance of engagement in activities that expand our understanding and appreciation of others.  “We have recently taken an inventory of diversity-related activities on the UNI campus and found 197 distinct things that faculty and staff members have chosen to list.  Through this commitment to diversity, we have a greater understanding of the human experience.    We have an educational purpose and a human purpose when we take action to present and participate in opportunities that challenge our views and illuminate the richness of diversity on our campus,” he said.

A broad overview of Islam was presented by Kenneth Atkinson, associate professor in the Department of Philosophy & World Religions.  He told the audience that the religion of Islam has roots as a peace initiative and is inspired by the revelations of the prophet Mohammad and how Muslims believe in prophets and consider Jesus a prophet.  Atkinson said that there are many stories about Mohamed’s life; he is considered a model Muslim.  Atkinson went on to explain that Muslims believe the Qur’an are revelations of God to the prophet Mohammad over more than two decades and that Islam is a monotheist religion -- a single God is worshiped; the prophet Mohammad is not worshiped.

The Muslim faith community in Cedar Falls-Waterloo was the topic presented by Mohammed Fahmy, professor in the Department of Industrial Technology and an active leader in the local Muslim faith community.  He shared information about the Muslim population in the world, the United States and the Cedar Valley: 1.6 billion Muslims in the world; 8-10 million Muslims in the United States and approximately 3000 Muslims in the Cedar Valley.

Student panelists share experiences they have had on campus and offered tips for more effective interaction with Muslim students.  A Muslim woman who chooses to wear a scarf covering her hair and neck said that people think she is oppressed because of her choice.  Another panelist said she has felt excluded from classroom team projects because other students do not invite her to participate with them.  One woman on the panel explained that the scarf’s purpose is not to oppress but to show modesty and allow people to appreciate her for her mind and not her feminine form.

Student panelists made these points at the program on Wednesday:

  • Faculty teaching long classes should consider that a Muslim may need to have a break to pray during a long instructional session.
  • Fellow students should be considerate of a Muslim student’s option to decline attending a Christian worship service.
  • Take the initiative to introduce yourself and get to know a Muslim student who may be your neighbor or classmate.
  • Some Muslim women do not shake hands upon greeting.
  • Refrain from stereotyping all Muslims based on the actions of a small group of Muslim.

The program was ninth in the Insights for Effectiveness series organized by the Student Affairs Diversity Committee.  Previous Insights for Effectiveness programs topics dealt with students of color, disabilities, LGBT issues, international student experiences, transgender issues, gender communication, veterans’ adjustment to campus, and bias-based behavior on campus.

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