The University of Iowa

Students work to combat Islamophobia with second annual Islam Awareness Week

April 5th, 2016
Islam Expo

The Islam Expo is pictured in the University of Iowa Main Library on Monday, April 4, 2016. This week kicks off Islam Awareness Week, a week dedicated to raise awareness and understanding of Islam on campus, sponsored by the UI Muslim Student Association. (The Daily Iowan/McCall Radavich)

By Cindy Garcia, The Daily Iowan

Even while eating at a restaurant with her friends, Doaa Elgaali, who wears a headscarf, must be careful of what she says.

Words like “hijack” and “bomb” are off limits, she said.

“If I’m eating cake, and I’m like, ‘That cake was the bomb,’ my friend would tell me not to say that,” she said, referring to the way people around her would react.

Misunderstandings and misconceptions of Islam and Muslims are issues students in the University of Iowa Muslim Student Association aim to alleviate during the second-annual Islam Awareness Week.

According to a 2014 hate-crime data from the FBI, of the 1,140 victims of anti-religious hate crimes, 16.1 percent of them were victims of anti-Islamic bias.

An Islam Expo occurred on Monday as part of Islam Awareness Week, and events are slated for the rest of the week.

These events include Hijab it Up, which offers non-Muslims an opportunity to wear a headscarf; Today’s American Muslim, which will host an imam; Flowers of Faith, in which members will hand out out roses with Islamic messages attached, and a Fastathon, in which non-Muslims can fast from sunrise to sunset, culminating in a dinner.

UI sophomore Gada Herz, the Muslim association marketing director, said Islam Awareness Week is important to bring to the UI because there is a substantial Muslim population on campus.

“Some of the Muslims here aren’t as visible as others, but we do exist in quite large numbers here, and it’s important that where large numbers of a diverse group of people live, that there be understandings among them, so life becomes easier for everyone,” she said.

Herz said she hopes people who participate or even just hear about Islam Awareness Week events realize they live in an intersectional religious and cultural community.

“I just hope they walk away with a much more open mind than they would have had walking in,” she said. “A lot of people that attend our events in the first place are the much more open-minded individuals.”

Elgaali, who coordinated Hijab It Up, said this year’s event will be more of an emphasis on male hijabs and clarification on the social experiment of wearing one for a day.

“Of course, a point that I’ve been wanting to get across for people is that when someone wears the scarf for a day, it’s nothing like the experience for people who wear it every day,” she said.

Elgaali said that because of the current political atmosphere in the United States and presidential candidates such as Donald Trump, she is more aware of her headscarf and the possibility she may be targeted for it.

“When I, for example, walk into a parking lot. I’m more careful. I try to always be in a group of people,” she said. “[People] shouldn’t assume that just because a Muslim women observes a head scarf that she is associated with extremism, because it is definitely not the case.”

UI sophomore Alya Mohd said she went to the Islam Expo because she likes to learn more about Islam even though she is a Muslim.

“I think it’s important [to raise awareness] right now because politicians are expressing Islamophobic and xenophobic comments, and the media portray a lot of misconceptions of Islam,” she said. “Islam is not about terrorism.”

Mohd said she also watches what she says, even when it comes to expressing sympathy for the victims of terrorist attacks because she is afraid people would judge her because she wears a headscarf.

“I’m afraid of being attacked — by words,” she said.




Today: Hijab It Up

Where: IMU Hawkeye Room

When: 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and discussion in 343 IMU at 7 p.m.

Wednesday: Today’s American Muslim

Where: IMU River Room

When: 7 p.m.

Thursday: Flowers of Faith

Where: IMU Hawkye Room, Pentacrest, T. Anne Cleary Walkway

When: Begins at 10:30 a.m.

Friday: Fastathon

Where: IMU Main Lounge

When: Begins at 6:15 p.m.