United Islam Awareness Week is an annual event held by the Muslim Students’ Assocation at the University of Saskatchewan in conjunction with four other universities across the west.
The very first UIAW was held in Saskatoon in 2013. So the foundations of this now national event were laid here in our own city with the University of Saskatchewan being its original host. The first year was the most remarkable as it impacted attendees enough to follow the teachings of Islam.
Now, one might ask why isn’t there a week long event like this for other religions? Why do Islam and Muslims need an event like UIAW?
To answer this question, it is important to understand the various cases of on-campus Islamophobia experienced by Muslim students on a regular basis along with the Blasphemy Day student clash that occurred at the U of S in 2012.
In October 2012, the Freethought Alliance set up a booth in the Arts Tunnel and invited students to “trade your soul for a cookie.” There were various pictures of deities posted and even a spin the wheel in order to determine which hell you would go to.
The ‘clash’ occurred because one of the representations of deities was the controversial picture of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, drawn by a Danish cartoonist. In this illustration, he is depicted as having a bomb under his turban, whereas the other pictures of deities had no negative connotations. The MSA executive of the time raised concern over that specific picture chosen.
The ‘clash’ ended with the MSA setting up their own table in the Arts Tunnel and facilitating discussions between the two groups. The problem in this scenario is that no one seems to have noticed is that Prophet Muhammad PBUH is not a deity, so him being included with the other deities made absolutely no sense.
This is why UIAW is much needed as people who have no knowledge about Islam or have knowledge from unreputable sources keep making claims about Islam.
This lack of knowledge and misinformation then lead to acts of Islamophobia. Rida Pervaiz, a first year pharmacy student and MSA vice-president, talks about these acts of Islamophobia on campus.
“I have recently found out three sisters were confronted by this one man who told them to remove their hijab, that [they] don’t have to wear [their] hijab on campus,” Pervaiz said.
Acts and threats like these threaten the safety of Muslim students on campus and create fear. Just last year, a man threatened to come to the Bowl and execute “Saudi leaders.” He was taken into custody.
Current MSA executives, Iqra Khan and Pervaiz, recall the Québec City mosque shooting, which happened during the UIAW events of 2017. They spoke of how the shooting affected them, making them realize the true power and importance in having these kinds of weeks.
“After the Christchurch shootings and the Québec shooting, there’s been an increase of fear in the Muslim students on campus,” Pervaiz said.
This year, the organizers wanted to tackle the issues and misconceptions at the core of Islam with more emphasis than in previous years. This resulted in the theme for this year — “Radical Islamic Honesty: Changing the Narrative.” The topics covered over the week were: Qur’an Burning Doubt, Is Jihad Lit? Yours Truly, Muhammad PBUH, Killing Us Softly and The Triple Threat.
MSA president and second year Arts and Science student Abdirahman Ali sees UIAW as a chance for Muslim students to reclaim the narrative and celebrate their religion.
“It is a chance for us to speak the truth about Islam, on our own terms, as it is taught in the Qur’an and the Prophet PBUH, and most of all, it’s a chance for us to have that confidence and be proud about the beautiful teachings of this religion,” Ali said.
People help make UIAW a success every year. With many volunteers and attendees from all the universities, UIAW is about representation. It is not everyday that you see Muslims reclaiming their narrative and inviting speakers from all over the world.
UIAW empowers the identity of Muslims at the U of S and across the other four universities that take part in the activities of the week. There is always a wonderful crowd that come to learn and support the event.
“One thing that always sticks with me … is how engaging the crowds are,” Ali said. “Everyone is critical, whether they’re Muslims or non-Muslims, about issues in our society and how they frankly have questions. They’re not just following blindly. Now, those questions get answered.”
This op-ed was written by a University of Saskatchewan undergraduate student and reflects the views and opinions of the writer. If you would like to write a rebuttal, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Supplied/ MSA