On Oct. 30, Muslim students and others filled the department of religion lounge on the sixth floor of Anderson Hall.
As students listened, keynote speaker Mauri Saalakhan, director of operations for the Peace and Justice Foundation, discussed the topic of the myth versus the reality of Islam and terrorism.
“The current definition of terrorism has become synonymous with Islam,” said Saalakhan while discussing his book Islam and Terrorism: Myth Vs. Reality, “and there is a profound injustice in that.”
The lecture and open-forum featuring Saalakhan is part of the week-long event, “Peace…not prejudice.” It was organized by the Muslim Students Association, a student group on campus, which ran from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2.
Meaza Iyassu ,a head chair of Temple’s MSA, attended this event in hopes of correcting the misconceptions surrounding Islam and Muslims on one of the most diverse campuses in the country.
“Even though Temple is very diverse, are various groups coming together? Are we taking the time to create dialog? No,” Iyassu, a junior political science major, said.
Several students who attended the event were not Muslim, yet they shared concerns with all other audience members.
“I came for further education on the whole things within Islam,” said Jessica Blair, a freshman studying Hebrew classics.
“I think people should be aware to what’s going on, and the prejudice thing is definitely not good.” Blair said.
Later in the event, the organizers opened a forum for students to pose questions to Saalakhan regarding negative stereotypes of Islam in America.
“It’s a very poisonous atmosphere for people of good will to perceive what Islam really is,” Saalakhan said about American sources of information.
According to the MSA, “Peace…not prejudice” was not a response to last week’s Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week on campus, where former Sen. Rick Santorum spoke on his views of Islam and their connections to fascism.
This week-long string of events was planned nearly two months ago with the university’s schedule of classes and events considered along with the availability of prestigious speakers, the MSA added.
Some of Santorum’s speech during Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week could be perceived as blatant untruths about Islam and the Muslim people, whereas beliefs stated throughout the MSA’s event were rooted in peace, said Mohamed Gamal-Eldin, the vice president of MSA. . .
Gamal-Eldin, a senior history major, said this concept of peace was a goal for the week’s events. He also stressed being straight forward regarding students’ differences and commonalities.
A debate would have been more effective for Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, rather than a one-sided argument presented in Santorum’s speech, Gamal-Eldin said.
“It didn’t clarify the other side. It did more harm than good,” he said.
Maaz Siddiqui, the president of MSA, still planned to go through with the event with discussions of Islam in safe and peaceful open forums to help increase awareness of Islam.
“People fear what they don’t know,” said Siddiqui, a senior biology major. “If we increase awareness about Islam, people won’t have as much fear.”
Saalakhan said increasing awareness in a small group of supporters does not fulfill the ultimate goal of reaching peace or expelling prejudice from America. But he said he views it as the beginning steps towards a new peaceful culture.
“We find comfort with those who support us, but we find growth with those who don’t,” Saalakhan said.
Daniel Weisbein can be reached at Dweis@temple.edu