U of O students come together to share art, food, and culture

From March 13 to 17, the University of Ottawa Muslim Students Association once again filled the University Centre with food, performances, and enriching information for Islam Awareness Week.

Outside of showcasing a cavalcade of authentic cuisine, the annual event served as an opportunity to clear up any common misconceptions about the world’s second-largest religion by giving U of O students a chance to speak with practicing Muslims about their faith.

“We felt like it could be used as an outlet to get all your questions answered,” said Filsan Nur, a second-year international development student and event coordinator. “I feel like usually when people have questions regarding anything really, our first instinct is to research it on our own. And especially with what’s going on in the world right now, I feel like a lot of things can be very biased or misconstrued.”

The entire event hinged on the over 160 volunteers who signed up, all of whom were enthusiastic to speak about their faith.

“We’re all ambassadors of the religion,” summarized Nur. “And the way we carry ourselves is the way people respond to us.”

The event featured information tables on all aspects of Islam, which served to educate students on diverse topics such as why women wear the hijab, the life of the Prophet and what his message entails, how Islam promotes a healthy and balanced lifestyle, and the truth behind Sharia law (and why it isn’t going to take over Canada).  

When explaining the importance of the event, several members of the Muslim Students Association brought up a popular saying in Islam, “actions are but intentions.”

“You’re showing people your character and the beauty of the religion through your actions first,” explained Nur. “And then you can go and clear up misconceptions, or even explain the religion to people.”

“If you have a UCU filled with people who are smiling and offering you chocolate, that’s your first impression of who a Muslim is.”

While the smiles and cordiality went a long way, presenting accurate information was even more pivotal to the event. All of the volunteers who attended this five-day celebration went to training sessions beforehand to make sure they were learning from credible and unbiased sources.

“Our main focus was on authenticity,” said Nur. “We tried to focus mainly on the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet, which we call Sunnah.”

Centring on the Quran and the Sunnah also served to remind people that much of the violence the West associates with Islam is not part of the religion itself.

“In the time (that the Quran was revealed), it was normalized in the culture to have violence,” said Nur. “But in reality, there are many, many chapters that do outline that violence is not the answer.”

Overall, the goal of this week-long event was also to help counteract the nearly constant negative media coverage surrounding Islamic culture.

“The first step is knowledge and gaining knowledge, and being aware of what’s going on in your society,” said Nur. “So long as you’re aware and conscious of other religions, and you’re there to respect them, that can really tone down a lot of things.”