Two weeks ago, 13 Hesston College students visited the Islamic Society of Wichita and explored the religion of Islam. Led by sociology professor Dan Muhwezi and tour guide Ahmed Haroual, students sat in on a worship session in the mosque and participated in a Q&A. During this session students learned about many of the prejudices that Muslims have to deal with on a daily basis.
Muhwezi, whose “Religions of the World” class participated in the event, said it’s important for students to get out of their comfort zones.
“The author of our textbook, William A. Young, argues that ‘our future depends on people’s willingness to understand other people’s religions,’” he said. “Our class took this trip on the premise that to understand a religion one must carefully observe to whatever they regard as supreme.”
But understanding Islam isn’t something that most find easy to do. Recently, the U.S. has experienced a chain reaction of hate crimes and harassment, on the upswing since the Presidential election. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 400 incidents of hateful harassment were recorded between the dates of November 9 and November 14. Across the country, prejudices against skin color, religion, and sexual orientation are interrupting the way some people live their daily lives.
And they’re happening in our own backyard. The Wichita Eagle reported that on Monday, hate speech targeting black, Native American and gay men was found chalked on the sidewalk in three different locations at Wichita State University. Last month, The Eagle also reported two specific cases of harassment, one against a Muslim woman and one toward an African American woman. In both cases the perpetrator referenced Donald Trump’s campaign.
Trump’s campaign has repeatedly claimed that they are not responsible for these issues, some critics blame his controversial rhetoric.
Haroual, who answered students questions on Islam, discussed how Muslims could try to prevent this type of hateful behavior.
“It’s important for us to get out in our neighborhoods and interact with our communities,” he said. “When neighbors know you, they won’t listen to inaccurate media.”
Throughout the mosque, Haroual said that the post election fear of harassment has been addressed among its 8000 members.
“We’re telling members to not be afraid to express their faith,” he said. “Don’t take your hijab off, be proud of it. After this election there is nothing to fear as positivity will overcome negativity.”
Students visiting the mosque found that some of their previous beliefs about the religion of Islam were incorrect. Sophomore Olivia Copsey experienced this first hand.
“My favorite thing about visiting the Mosque was that it forced me to re-examine the stereotypes that I had in my mind about Muslim people,” she said. “The media and others tell us a lot about what we should think about Muslim people. But until you’ve really tried to sit down and ask some questions of those people I think it’s wrong to take in this information blindly.”
According to Haroual, one of the most common misconceptions about Islam taken from the media is the idea that it is a violent religion. But, he said, the Quran, Muslims’ holy book, does not encourage violence.
This made an impression on Copsey.
“Just like Christian people fight over the right ways to do things, like the true meanings of scripture, so do Muslims,” Copsey said. “What I mean by this is that not all Muslims believe that suicide bombings are the right way to go about things, so you can’t assume that all Islamic people believe this as well. Yes there’s a group that does believe in doing terrorist things, because that’s their worldview. But there’s also a group that does not believe that is right conduct at all and we need to pay attention to both of these groups equally.”
Before leaving Haroual had one last message about embracing and understanding those who belong to the religion of Islam.
“Be open minded, travel, meet new people, and do not be afraid of Muslims.”