Six-week program looks to educate SU community on Islam’s basic practices
For the past few weeks, Jimmy Luckman has attended a program to expand his knowledge on Islam and better accommodate Muslim students.
“I was thinking and I was like, ‘wow, I don’t know anything about the Muslim community,’” said Luckman, associate director for First Year Seminar at Syracuse University. “How am I supposed to help, support and be able to help educate?”
Established by Amir Durić, SU’s chaplain, “Understanding Islam” is a six-week program designed to help the Syracuse community learn more about Islam. The program meets in the Bird Library Peter Graham Scholarly Commons Room every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Participants complete journal assignments and community involvement tasks that culminate in a certificate of completion. This Tuesday, Durić explained topics like iftar, suhoor and taraweeh to the audience of community members.
Durić joined SU in 2017. His duties as chaplain include supporting Muslim and non-Muslim students, helping faculty and staff, having presence when it comes to organizing religious life and advocating for student needs, faith based counseling and Islam interfaith dialogue.
“(My job) includes raising awareness about Islam and Muslims at Syracuse University, and building bridges between Syracuse University and the broader Syracuse community,” Durić said.
The program seeks to address a lack of understanding on campus of Islam’s basic practices. Faculty and staff need to fully understand what Muslim students’ needs are so that they can cater to them, Durić said.
Luckman said that FYS wants their lead instructors and peer leaders to go into the community and learn to be able to teach different types of students effectively. He wanted to set that example and attended this class to deepen his understanding.
Mariam Abdelghany, student representative for the Muslim Student Association, agreed that professors and small communities within campus need to do better. She said improvement should come from a personal level.
Abdelghany said that Luckman emailed her about the class and said he wanted to start accommodating Muslim students better, and asked how he could start doing that. She said it was great to see people going out of their way to make sure all students feel comfortable.
We would often have really interesting conversations, how practices and beliefs overlap, what is similar, what is different. Participants would engage in this discussion that really moves the needle a little bit when it comes to understanding those that we will interact with.
Amir Durić, Syracuse University Muslim chaplain and Imam
“For me personally, it’s a way to continue to have dialogue and not just read from a book, but come together,” Luckman said. “I can learn and try to read on my own, but it’s helpful to have spaces like this where some people are asking questions, or engaging in dialogue.”
It’s important to attend events such as this program with the intent of taking something valuable away, Luckman said. He said it isn’t worthwhile to attend events with the purpose of “checking a box,” and he takes away tangible things from each meeting to implement into FYS 101.
“I think that oftentimes people say like, ‘oh, we have a religious observance policy,’ ” Luckman said. “But instead of acknowledging, they’re just tolerating it”
Unlike previous years, Ramadan will fall fully within the spring semester — in March and April — so it is crucial that the campus community understands what that entails and supports Muslim students, Durić said.
Muslim Student Association Vice President Mariya Tazi said that events like these promote awareness and foster community especially in light of Ramadan, because they raise awareness for Muslim students about the resources available on campus.
“Even though you are without your family during Ramadan, you kind of have these times every day… with the community, with the other Muslim community on campus,” Tazi said.
Abdelghany said that the motto of the Muslim Student Association is “a community where all belong.” She said that the group isn’t just about accommodating Muslim students, but about using their religion to make sure everyone feels that they belong.
She said even though she’s Muslim, she learned something new through the program about restrictions during Ramadan. Tazi agreed that it’s important to have the ideas taught in the programs reiterated, because learning about religion is a constant, ongoing process.
Durić was surprised by the interest in the Muslim community that he found on campus. When he began “Understanding Islam,” he did not anticipate that the series would have such a large turn out.
He said that because of the sizable turnout, the programs became a space to foster dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims. The attendees came from various backgrounds and religions, so the program created an environment for open conversation, he said.
“We would often have really interesting conversations, how practices and beliefs overlap, what is similar, what is different,” Durić said. “Participants would engage in this discussion that really moves the needle a little bit when it comes to understanding those that we will interact with.”
One challenge that the program faces is advertising. Durić said that they are competing with many other programs in the same time frame, and given the optional nature of the class, sometimes it’s difficult to garner interest.
“The benefit is that it is more accessible for students but also those who work at (the) university and public,” Durić said. “But at the same time since there are no requirements, and it’s not mandatory for anyone to be there, it is a challenge to really recruit participants.”
Senior Cindy Mendoza heard about the event through SU’s online events calendar. She said as a neuroscience major, Islam isn’t something she’s studied or is exposed to often academically.
Mendoza, whose roommate is Muslim, said the program has given her a better understanding of her roommate’s background and religious practices. She mostly took the class because she didn’t know anything about the religion and wanted to learn.
“Overall, I think (the religion) is a lot about compassion,” Mendoza said.
Durić said that he was glad to see the positive influence of the program on campus, and thinks it has been effective in bridging gaps within the Syracuse community.
“I definitely think (the program) is beneficial for those who attend it,” Durić said. “It became a space for mutual understanding between different faith traditions and different backgrounds.”
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