Islam Awareness Week: learning from one another
4 February 2010
Two members of the UCL community describe what they learned when they were 'buddied up' during Islam Awareness Week last month.
Lotifa Begum, a second-year Politics and East European Studies undergraduate, and Nicki Challenger, Welfare Officer at UCL Union, reflect on their expectations and experiences during the 'In the footsteps of a Muslim' programme.
I had a number of reasons for taking part in Islam Awareness Week. I am responsible for representing students of faith within the university and the Union, and I thought it was important to understand a little more about one of the largest and fastest-growing faiths in the world.
I felt that I knew very little about Islam and was pleased to be offered the opportunity to be introduced to the culture by students. As well as this, I thought it was especially important that people who were interested were willing to spend some time learning more about Islam at the moment, given the undeserved negative press Muslims around the world and Islamic Societies in particular have been receiving in the past few weeks.
I attended the London Central Mosque with a group of other students taking part in the week and representatives from the Islamic Society. On our arrival we were greeted by a man who worked for the mosque whose role is in education - explaining to groups like us more about Islam and the Muslim way of life. The girls were all given headscarves to cover our heads as a mark of respect and we were taken into the main room of the mosque. Our guide explained what was going on, and translated sections of what the imam was reading in Arabic. He explained the essential elements of Islam and encouraged us all to ask questions.
I learnt a great deal
about Muslim culture and the daily rituals of prayer in the mosque. A mosque is
not only a place to pray but also a place to gather with friends and other
members of the community, to socialise, to eat, to learn and to discuss. The
London Central Mosque hosts international conferences and inter-faith
discussions, and also has a restaurant in it (where we ate after our tour!). I
was particularly interested to learn that in order to be called a mosque (or
Masjid in Arabic, preferred over mosque as the latter comes from the Spanish
word meaning mosquito), the building has to contain a library. It doesn't have
to be extensive like the library in London Central Mosque, but it has to be
there. This, according to our guide, is because the first word of the Qur'an is
'read'. I can think of so many fascinating facts like this, but I
wouldn't have been able to tell you any of them a week ago.
After our tour I stayed behind in the restaurant to talk to Lotifa, and she offered to answer any questions we still had. I asked about the concept of family within Islam, and we discussed the different roles of men and women in family life for Muslims. All of the Islamic Society representatives spoke freely and openly about their faith and the culture surrounding it, and they were very warm and welcoming of all the students who came along to the tour. I think I'm not alone in saying I came away from Islam Awareness Week with a very positive impression of Islam as a faith and of Muslims.
Islam Awareness Week came at a prime time for the Islamic Society, and I took part in organising it for the purpose of helping others gain a better understanding of Islam - which, as Nicki mentioned, is a rapidly growing faith across the world.
Islam Awareness Week aimed at giving people the opportunity to speak and engage in discussion with Muslims here at UCL and is a crucial element of the week as part of our calendar of events every year.
Footsteps of a Muslim' essentially aimed to encourage people to share in the
experience of what life as a Muslim is really like. The week began with a
introduction to the principles upon which Islam is based. Belief in One God Who
has no partners was explained, along with an understanding of who the Last
Messenger of God is, Muhammad (peace be upon him). Participants in the
footsteps programme were linked with a Muslim from UCL and this allowed for
one-to-one interaction and understanding, as well as simply the chance to know
a Muslim student.
The mosque tour gave
cause for me and other participants to reflect on the deep meaning of some
verses in the Qur'an - the Final Book that Muslims follow and adhere to. At the
mosque tour the guide was able to explain concepts and the basic principles of
Islam well, and his knowledge of Arabic was well conveyed - even I learnt a few
Arabic words and their meanings myself! The Central London Mosque showed the
comprehensiveness of Islam as a religion: with faith comes action, and
everything in Islam which is done with good intentions will be rewarded. Many
thought-provoking questions were posed also during the time spent in the mosque
in relation to our lives.
I can only share how enjoyable it was for me. I was asked questions ranging from the direction in which Muslims pray, to the reasons why women in Islam dress the way they do - questions which I know have been playing on the minds of my co-workers and peers alike. I also rather amusingly had a conversation where I was able to clarify certain misconceptions such as my ability and free choice as a young Muslim woman to choose a suitable partner!
It was, to say the least, a learning experience for me just as much as for Nicki, and I am really pleased to have had this chance to be a part of the journey of helping others to follow in the 'Footsteps of a Muslim' and hope a true understanding of Islam as a faith follow from this. I can only hope that more opportunities arise in our academic environment to take time in learning and understanding a faith.
UCL Union's One World events put the celebration of cultural, social and personal diversity at the heart of the UCL calendar. Events include cultural exhibitions, workshops, talks, free food events, celebrating religious festivals and highlighting national campaigns. Organised by students for students One World aims to be relevant, fun, a great way to meet new people and explore UCL's diverse community.