Pedaling hard on my bike, I raced a thunderstorm to an evening meet-and-greet with CU Boulder’s Muslim Student Association. Cold, thick raindrops stung my cheeks.
Still a little soggy, I poked my head into the Aspen Room of the University Memorial Center on the CU Boulder campus and was received with warm smiles, conversation, dinner and a rousing game of “Islamic Jeopardy.”
In my hour and a half at the event, I learned that students in the MSA seek more coverage of their communities and concerns in the media and around campus. At CU Boulder they sought visibility and equal opportunity to pursue their hopes and dreams.
About 40 students filled the room. I mingled as we all played a get-to-know-you game. Imran plays a sport, Fatima has never broken a bone, Fawaz traveled to more than five countries, Marcia owns a pet, and Noor is the youngest child, I learned.
Bader, a junior from Kuwait, said he joined the MSA during his sophomore year. Both on and off campus, he said, misconceptions about Islam abound.
“Telling people and educating people about Islam is like a duty,” he said.
He also expressed a desire for news about education and other issues in countries around the world.
Many students voiced passion for issues of equality, diversity and affordability in higher education. They wanted to pursue a graduate degree after their time at CU Boulder but expressed worry about funding their endeavors.
“If it wasn’t for the price of CU Boulder and other scholarships, it would not have been possible to come here,” said Faiza, a freshman.
In 2015, the MSA asked CU Boulder for a prayer room inside the Engineering Center to accommodate Muslim students’ religious needs. Members of the MSA expressed feelings of increasing marginalization and alienation, especially as Donald Trump’s aggressive nationalism and xenophobia has gained traction around the country.
“The main reason I joined MSA is to bring more awareness to Muslims on campus because I feel like we’re kind of invisible,” said Rana, a sophomore.
Her concerns echoed those of virtually all students I spoke with.
Mehdi, a freshman, expressed frustration at Boulder’s ignorance of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic celebration that began on Sept. 12. No one on campus recognized the holiday, much less expressed the proper “Eid Mubarak” — the equivalent of “Happy Holidays”.
“I see that as a further marginalization of our community, which is already something that is a really big problem,” Mehdi said.
Chandra, a freshman, pointed to social media as another means of erasing Muslim identity. Last year, SnapChat had an Eid filter, but this year it does not. The photo and video platform features a filter for every major holiday for the world’s other major religions.
Sitting with a table of engineering students, the start of “Islamic Jeopardy” interrupted our conversation. We split into three large groups. Every question, my group selected the highest point-value we could. This was a strategy that quickly put us behind the other teams, and even more quickly caught us up again.
We answered trivia on the Quran, Islamic belief and society, and CU Boulder. We received questions like, “In whose house did the Prophet first stay at after the Hijrah journey from Makkah to Medinaj?” I was clueless.
(The answer: Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari (ra))
Based on my conversation with MSA members, I plan to cover issues of culture and diversity at CU Boulder, and seek to give communities like the members of the MSA the respect, recognition and voice they deserve.
The MSA is hosting five events this semester, focusing on both community-building and education.