This week, the Knox Islamic Club invited students to the Gizmo for “Mocha with Muslims,” hoping to spark interfaith conversations and give students the chance to pose any questions they have wanted to ask about the Islamic faith.
“Some people go through their life and they don’t meet a Muslim,” said club Co-President sophomore Shayan Nadeem. “There’s only one way to learn. It’s to talk. It doesn’t have to be about religion … Just sort of talk, have some mocha and make some new friends.”
Islamic Club members were extremely pleased with the turnout for the event, with about 25 students participating in the dialogue. The event was scheduled to end at 5:30 p.m., but most of the conversations kept going past the set endpoint.
“This shows how all these people are open to learning. [Some students] have been here for more than an hour,” Nadeem said.
The topics of conversation at the Gizmo tables varied greatly, from curiosity about halal meat to more controversial topics like the role of the hijab in Islam. Co-President sophomore Iesha Said spoke at length about misconceptions regarding the hijab.
“The fundamentals of the hijab apply to everyone, male and females. … Men have a similar dress code where they don’t go around shirtless, they don’t go around showing everything, you know?”
Said, who wears a hijab, also commented on the different ways it is worn.
“ Some people say you have to cover your face, some people just say it’s the headscarf, some people say it’s in your heart, it’s the way you carry yourself … The ways people interpret it are super different, but it’s a choice at the end of the day.”
Another issue that came up were the food options provided by the cafeteria for Muslim students.
“At the start of the 2016 Fall Term, there weren’t a lot of options for Muslims and for some of the Muslims, it was a really big problem for them. All they’d eat was vegetarian food because they did not want to eat meat that was not halal,” sophomore Zulqarnain Zafar said.
Students reported that the situation in the cafeteria has improved this term.
“It’s better, we can get by,” Nadeem said. “I’d say last term we could not get by because we had one halal chicken dish every week. Now it’s like one halal dish after every two meals.”
However, they felt it did not make sense that the introduction of more halal dishes was such a challenge.
“Halal meat is different from other meat because it’s processed in a different way, in the Islamic way … It would not really affect anyone else who was non-Muslim to eat that kind of meat because they wouldn’t even know the difference. … but then again it matters a lot to some of the Muslims that the meat is halal… So we’re just trying to add more and more options for Muslims here on campus,” Zafar said.
Said stated that she hopes that through being demanding and increasing the visibility of the Islamic Club that they’ll be able to push for more accommodations from Knox.
“This campus, they will try as much to cater to our needs. At bigger universities you don’t really get that, so I’m trying to take advantage of that,” Said said.
However, she also urged for the school to live up to its principles by being accommodating to minority groups, such as Muslims, without the students having to go to them with their demands.
“Yes [Knox is] inclusive but what does it mean to be inclusive? Inclusive to whose standards? Where’s the diversity in how to cater to this big diverse campus of students? Why do we have to come to the school like this is what we need? They should know ahead of time, we have Muslim students on campus, we need to cater to them – we’re paying tuition just like any other student.”
Nadeem stated that students should expect to see a lot more of the club this school year. Later this month they’ll be involved in another interfaith conversation when “Interfaith Amigos,” a group encouraging collaboration between the major world faiths, comes to campus. The first conversation will be held in an open student forum on Oct. 17, followed by a presentation by the Interfaith Amigos the following day. This spring the Islamic Club will also attempt to resurrect a past Knox tradition by hosting a breaking of fast during Ramadan in the Gizmo.
“Get ready for Islamic club events,” Nadeem said. “They’re gonna be lit.”