Carolina Torres – Staff Writer –
Being a Muslim does not mean being a terrorist, said Marwa Mansour, president of Southern’s Muslim Student Association. In order to combat common stereotypes and misunderstandings and to maintain the culture, heritage and practices of Islam and Muslims, the MSA organizes several events over the semester, such as the Arabian Nights, which took place last Wednesday.
“This event is basically all about culture,” said Mansour during her opening speech to the visitors of the Arabian Nights. “Our group is open to everyone, not only Muslims. We are actually pretty cool people – you just have to say Hi.”
The Arabian Nights was indeed visited by a bunch of different people – at least this is what one can see from the outside. There are females with the traditional Egyptian clothing, the so called Abaya, females with the traditional Pakistani costume, the Salwar Kameez, and females who do not wear any traditional clothing at all. There are some females who wear headscarves and some who do not. There are men in traditional clothes and men in casual clothing. All kinds of people found their way to the Arabian Nights.
The MSA consists of 20 members, said Mansour. Last year, she added, it was a much smaller group, but the club is getting bigger and bigger now.
“This is an event, where we have Arabic food and dancing and it is all about culture and having fun,” the MSA president said. “But we also have speakers coming in to spread Islam. We want to make Muslims look better in society and make people see that we are as normal as everyone else.”
This is why the Arabian Nights do not only provide food and dancing, but also an educational experience. The MSA had prepared a Power Point presentation on the topic of Islam and marriage.
“There are a lot of misconceptions of Muslims and marriage,” said Mansour. “Let me just break this down for you guys.”
Marriage, as Mansour explained it, turned out to be a simple contract between two parties. She revealed to her audience all the specialties of an Arabian wedding; which by the way differ depending on the Arabian country. They also had a quiz which gave the audience the opportunity to show what they have learned about the Islam and marriage.
The educational section was followed by some dancing. The females stepped between the tables and moved their feet to the Arabian, Pakistani and Turkish rhythms. They showed the people who came up to them the steps and after some practice, they all danced together.
Darcey Hughes is the secretary of the MSA. With her blond hair and her blue eyes, she certainly differs from the other girls in the room, though she is wearing the Salwar Kameez, the traditional Pakistani costume. In fact, she is one of the two non-Muslims who are members of the club.
“My mission is to make other non-Muslims more aware,” she said.
Hughes and Mansour met during Hughes’ first semester.
“It was an anthropology class,” said Hughes. “We were talking about culture shocks. Marwa told me how it felt when she moved back from Egypt to the U.S. for college. And then we talked about how our lives differ, but how they are similar at the same time. We became good friends and I met other Muslims. I was willing to learn more about Islam and share with others.”
To Hughes, she said, the people in the MSA are like a second family now, even if there are many differences between them.
“They call each other ‘Habibti’, which means ‘my dear’ or ‘my love’,” Hughes said. “And they say ‘Habla’, which means ‘sister’. And that’s also what they call me.”
Another aspect of the Muslim culture that Hughes appreciates is their attitude towards their own bodies.
“When you walk on campus you see girls with tattoos and dressed very revealingly,” she said. “In Islam, women respect their own bodies and they are modest. It changed my own views when I got to know them. And men respect women for that.”
Mariam Mansour, Marwa Mansour’s sister, was born in the U.S. and went back to Egypt when she was nine-years-old. She has now moved back to America for her studies.
“We still live our life very traditional here in the U.S.,” Mariam Mansour said. “We celebrate our holidays and go to our church, the Masjid. It is nice to share all this with people who live just as we do but also to share with others who want to know about us and our culture and traditions.”
Mariam Mansour said that she likes to take the good things out of American culture and keep the bad ones out of her life.
“We don’t do the drinking and the clubbing,” she said. “But I very much appreciate the education and the experiences you can make in the U.S. We live in freedom here.”
Alija Amin has been the advisor for the MSA for about 16 years. She said that an important purpose of the club is also to clear misconceptions about Islam.
“People hear things about Muslims on TV which don’t fit with the Muslims they know,” said Amin. “They want to learn to better understand of what Islam is about. Muslim is an Arabic word and it only means ‘Person that submits himself or herself to the will of God.’ That’s all this is about.”