Last week Newcastle Universality Islamic Society celebrated Discover Islam Week on campus.
The event aims to promote a better understanding between people from different cultural and religious backgrounds and educate non-Muslim students about Islam.
The week, which is the biggest event in ISoc’s calendar and, according to organisers, has been held every year for over a decade now, was bigger and better than ever before.
A spacious heated marquee was setup in the Claremont Quad, decorated with art installations and posters, with the view of presenting Islamic history and culture in an engaging manner.
Da’wah officer and a member of the organising team, Sohail said: “The reason why we are doing this is simply because we feel it is important for us to build bridges with non-Muslim students on campus. We know that a lot of students may not truly understand some things that their Muslim friends do in their religion, so this week gives us the opportunity to share and explain these beliefs to a wider public but at the same time we are not looking at it as a missionary work.
“We really love this week because we know that there are so many misconceptions out there, especially now when you, unfortunately, find Islam being in the media quite a lot, inevitably causing some negative attitudes, and we are screaming to kind of go ’wait, it’s not like that, please come and talk to us!’”
The week began with the opening ceremony on Monday morning and the privilege of cutting the ribbon to declare the weeklong event open fell to Mr Shed Coulthard, the security manager at Newcastle University.
The opening ceremony was followed by Musa Alghamdi, the President of Newcastle University Islamic Society, who took the stage to welcome everyone to Discover Islam Week 2016.
The university’s Coordinating Chaplain, Catherine Lack, spoke about the importance of understanding and learning about one another’s faith and Head Sister Ayat Bashir, read some of her own spoken word poetry.
Sohail added: “The whole purpose for us was to put on a nice marquee, and give a lot of hospitality here to show what Islam is all about, and we wanted to do it the best way we can”.
Each day throughout the week, from 10 am to 6 pm people with interests in each topic were invited to step into the marquee and engage in conversation with Muslim volunteers about their faith and the way of life to find out what Islam – world’s fastest growing religion – really stands for.
The tent featured a range of interactive stalls, giving visitors the opportunity to try out Henna painting, homemade samosas, Hijab scarves, and Arabic calligraphy, drawn by world renowned calligrapher Lord Richard MacLeod, as well as a wide variety of literature to help novice Islam-explorers.
Robina Saeed said: “I would honestly say that the best way to start familiarisation with Islam is actually to speak to a Muslim person - as many different Muslims as you can, because everyone has their own story to tell, and you can therefore see what Islam means to each Muslim, so by speaking to someone on a personal basis it would be a lot easier to understand and trigger your thinking.
“For me Islam is about giving back to the people who give to you, and being charitable first and foremost in your intentions and actions”.
Among other things, the marquee installation was aimed at addressing a number of topical questions and common misconceptions often associated with Islam, such as unequal rights of women and men in Islam, prohibition of public and political activity among Muslim women, and ‘warlike character’ of Islam, as well as at generally extending one’s knowledge of The Qur’an, ‘Five Pillars’ of Islam, links between Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the notion of motherhood in Islam and why Muslim women dress the way they do.
Robina said: “In no way does Islam discourage Muslims to speak to other people of different religions, quite the opposite; Muslims are not necessarily Arabs; Islam does not force Muslim women to wear hijab, Muslim women can drive cars, keep their wealth for themselves, keep their surnames and are not deprived of the right to vote.
“In regards to my own faith, I’d say that Islam gives me a real sense of inner peace - Islam is love and compassion to everyone around me, regardless of whoever they are; as well as a richer, deeper sense of fulfilment in my life, which keeps me grounded and stops me from spending time worrying about the minor, inconsequential details that can sometimes cloud the larger picture that is life”, shared her perception Ayesha, another volunteer at the tent. “Islam teaches you to take care of your heart”.
Day three payed a particular attention to Women in Islam, featuring a dedicated daytime session and ‘Discovered Pearls’ event in the evening, meant to bring together Muslim women and Hijab Challenge participants to share their experiences and talk about why Muslim women actually wear the hijab.
“At first I thought the Hijab challenge wouldn’t feel any different, as it was just putting on a scarf on my head really, but to my surprise I actually felt really self-conscious -it was such an interesting experience and I was even a bit ashamed I felt so different”, said Lisa, one of the marquee attendees who took part in campus-wide Hijab Challenge on Tuesday.
As referred to the organizing team, Discover Islam Week has always been a great success, and this year’s event became no exception with even a greater number of people coming in to exchange their knowledge and lead thoughtful discussions, resulting in a generally greater buzz in the marquee as compared to the previous years.
Sohail said: “We’ve obviously progressed a lot over the years: we used to have just one small stall outside of the Students’ Union, and now it has grown into what it is today.
The society itself has actually grown over the years, and because the society has grown a lot more people have been interested in actually being involved in something like this, where all of us can come together and express what our faith is all about”.
The society also arranges lectures, study circles and social events to engage the wider community and promote a more accurate understanding of the religion. During this academic year ISoc has organized Alternative Freshers’ Week, hosting a series of alcohol free entertaining events, and Charity Week, raising a total of more than £3000 for various community charities.