Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Muslims Keeping the Faith|
|03/05/01 at 19:29:35|
|Muslims keeping the faith|
[i]College students get support from groups[/i]
From [url=http://www.dallasnews.com/metro/302506_hajj_04met.ART.html]the Dallas Morning News[/url]
By Kim Horner / The Dallas Morning News
As one of the few Muslims in Gainesville, Texas, Asad Rahman got used to fielding questions about why he prays five times a day, does not eat pork and fasts for his faith.
"I gave the generic answers, that these were doctrines of our religion," said the Southern Methodist University sophomore. Now that he's older, Mr. Rahman said, he has found answers of his own.
"Now I am more convinced of my beliefs based on my experience," he said.
As the 21-year-old political science major prepares to celebrate the end of the hajj pilgrimage season, he says his faith is stronger than ever. Like many Muslim college students living away from their families, Mr. Rahman has found support on campus through a Muslim Students Association.
From SMU and the University of North Texas to colleges across the country, such groups are helping members stay tied to their faith by offering weekly prayers, community activities and ways to connect with others in the growing ranks of Islamic students.
At SMU, the Muslim Students Association has planned a picnic to celebrate Eid ul-Adha, the festival of sacrifice, which concludes the hajj season on Monday. Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. At least once in their lives, Muslims are expected to trek to Mecca, in western Saudi Arabia, and join a ritual that their holiest prophet, Mohammed, took part in when he lived there about 1,400 years ago.
As 2 million Muslims from across the world converge on Mecca on Sunday, student groups across the country are helping members grow in their faith and prepare for a journey the young adults said they hope to make one day.
"It's a support group," said Nazreen Hassan, president of the SMU Muslim Students Association. "We try to provide a way to balance Islam with everyday college life."
Every Friday – the Muslim Sabbath – students stand shoulder to shoulder and kneel toward Mecca to pray together in a plain meeting room reserved at SMU's Hughes-Trigg Student Center. Some of the women wear embroidered hijabs, or headscarves, with jeans and sweaters. Backpacks, tennis shoes and stylish platform shoes line the sides of the room.
[i]Challenges to faith[/i]
Being at college can challenge students' religious dedication because they are often faced with new influences and are encouraged to question their beliefs, said Dr. H. Wesley Perkins, sociology professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.
"It's very common to see participation rates and commitment to beliefs drop off dramatically during the college-age years," Dr. Perkins said, adding that many strengthen their faith when they marry and have children.
Students say the campus Muslim associations help.
In addition to the weekly congregational prayers, the Muslim groups provide a social network and activities for members, whose religion does not allow drinking alcohol or dating. They work to dispel stereotypes about Islam, by teaching, for example, that it does not oppress women.
"I know a lot of students have said to me [that] without this type of thing, it would've been harder for them to adjust," said Zeyn Patel, a Houston resident and treasurer of the Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada. Mr. Patel was president of the Muslim student group at the University of Texas at Austin before he graduated in 1999.
Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in the country and the world; an estimated 6 million followers live in the United States. The religion also has grown at college campuses since the first chapper of the Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada formed in 1963. The organization based in Washington, D.C., now has chapters on more than 500 campuses, Mr. Patel said.
Muslim college students in this country doubled in number from 1990 to 2000, but they still make up less than 1 percent of all college students, according to a national survey of 269,413 freshmen by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles.
As the Muslim population increases, more universities are trying to accommodate its needs. About 70 campuses have special prayer rooms. Brown University in Providence, R.I., has a Halal meal plan, which serves meat slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law. Washington University in St. Louis offers special group housing.
In the Dallas-Fort Worph area, most colleges and some high schools have Muslim student alliances.
More than 40 students attend Friday congregational prayers at the University of Texas at Dallas, said Elias Hassen, the school's Muslim Students Association president.
"The students are religious to begin with, and this makes it easier for them to do what they would have done otherwise," he said.
In recent years, SMU dedicated a former janitor's closet for use as a washroom so the students can perform cleansing rituals in private before Friday prayers.
"It's kind of an awkward situation, because we rinse our hands, arms and feet," said Houda Jarrah, a senior and vice president of the Muslim Students Association.
Observant students say that in some ways, practicing their religion is easier in college because they can try to schedule classes around prayer.
"It's not as difficult as it may seem. ... It can fit in a person's life with a little tweaking here and there," Ms. Jarrah said.
About 50 students attend the weekly meetings of the SMU chapter, which the national association says is particularly active for a private school.
Last March, the group raised more than $108,000 for families displaced by the war in Chechnya. In December, it had a Ramadan dinner. The students are planning an annual Islamic Awareness Week event this month. In 1989, the group sponsored a lecture by singer Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens.
Students say the Muslim associations help develop future community leaders. Ms. Hassan said she wants to be a role model for others. Mr. Rahman, a student senator, sees a need for more Muslims in politics.
Ms. Jarrah said she didn't know that SMU had a Muslim student group when she enrolled at the university. Now one of its most active members, she says she will leave college deeply rooted in her faith.
"Now that I'm an adult, I believe everything in the Quran. When I need comfort or answers, I go there and I learn how to lead my life, and I feel peace," Ms. Jarrah said. "If I can bring comfort to myself and do this, I think I can help others."
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