Tying into the truth about Islam


Rebecca Turnbull

MSA member and Marshall graduate student Waleed Asif donns a “USA” hat as he dyes a shirt in the colors of the American flag Wednesday on Buskirk Field in celebration of “Hijab Day” for Islam Awareness Week.

Marshall graduate student Suzann Al-Qawasmi and her sister were shopping in a Huntington grocery store when a nearby man turned towards them.

“Excuse me,” the man said. “Are you guys Muslim?”

“Yes,” Al-Qawasmi nervously replied.

The terrorist attacks had occurred in Paris just days before, leaving Al-Qawasmi and her sister to tread carefully while donning their hijabs in public. To Al-Qawasmi, she and her sister had become trapped in a potentially dangerous situation with the man’s sudden encounter. They could do nothing but wait; it was a ticking bomb.

“I got really scared,” Al-Qawasmi said. “We were expecting backlash.”

However, Al-Qawasmi and her sister were taken aback by the man’s reply.

“I want you guys to know that I am so proud to share this country with you,” the man said, diminishing the girls’ fears. “You guys are just as American as I am.”

As president of the Muslim Student Association at Marshall University, Al-Qawasmi and other MSA members encouraged Marshall students to try on hijabs Wednesday to help educate others on the true purpose of the hijab and make kinder, more understanding encounters possible like the one she and her sister experienced at the grocery store.

The hijab headscarves were provided at the Memorial Student Center plaza by the MSA as part of its “Hijab Day” event for the ongoing Islam Awareness Week.

Al-Qawasmi said it is important for people to understand wearing a hijab is a personal choice to convey modesty and faith, not a form of oppression.

In the few cases where women are forced to wear hijabs, Al-Qawasmi said this is not the rightful use of the hijab and the majority of Islam followers do not endorse such ideas.

Al-Qawasmi also said students should participate in events like “Hijab Day” and other Islam Awareness Week events to not only better understand Islamic culture, but also to become better informed citizens for their participation in upcoming presidential elections in the United States.

“You hear all of this negative rhetoric and completely untrue things that a lot of the candidates are saying and the supporters of the candidates too,” Al-Qawasmi said. “Having this event this week shows people that we’re not the people that the media portrays us as.”

MSA member and junior biochemistry major Ibrahim Mohammed said people should strive to get out of their comfort zones and understand the commonalities between themselves and those of different cultures and religions.

“Regardless of us being different, there are a lot of similarities that we share,” Mohammed said. “It’s very good for people to be exposed to legitimate Muslims instead of what they see on TV and portrayed in the media, because we’re pretty much just like everybody else. A lot of us grew up here, spend a lot of our lives here and we’re just like all the other students here.”

Freshman athletic training major Caroline Donnell tried on a hijab for the first time at “Hijab Day” and said the experience opened her eyes to how much she has in common with Muslims beyond the clothes they choose to wear.

“They are real people. That’s the best way to put it,” Donnell said. “It’s nice to be able to get to understand them more than just what we see in the news, because the news isn’t really positive.”

Donnell and others also participated in the tie-dying party that followed “Hijab Day,” where students were able to tie-dye their own shirts and scarves with members of MSA.

Al-Qawasmi said working with other students to tie-dye garments gave them the opportunity to put their understandings into practice and share a fun, colorful moment with Muslim students who are just like them.

The next event for Islam Awareness Week is “Politics and Popsicles” 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday in the Memorial Student Center lobby. Students may attend the event to discuss Islamophobia and the current election while enjoying provided popsicles.

Rebecca Turnbull can be contacted at [email protected]