April 14, 2003

Banquet Recognizes Muslim Culture

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Muslims and Islam: Revealed, one of seven projects nationally to win a Muslim Intercultural Exchange Grant in 2002, hosted a banquet Saturday night in the Memorial Room of the Straight.

The program was sponsored by Muslim Educational and Cultural Association (MECA), AWAAZ: The Pakistani Students Association, the Cornell Arab Association (CAA) and the Department of Near Eastern Studies, and made possible through the Cooperative Grants Program, implemented by NAFSA: Association for International Educators and funded by the bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State.

“[MECA, AWAAZ and CAA] all applied for a grant through NAFSA, and the grant was for a whole series of programs entitled Muslims and Islam: Revealed, and this is the biggest culminating event of the whole program,” said Zahara Aziz ’04, Public Relations of MECA, and one of the project directors.

Other activities that have been part of Muslims and Islam revealed included “Iftaar at the Johnson” last semester, the purchase of educational materials for area schools through Roots & Shoots and the Cornell Hillel-MECA Mosaic, which recently received Cornell’s 2003 James E. Perkins Prize for Interracial Understanding.

“Tonight we’re trying to show that besides the religion of Islam, there’s just so much more that comes with the culture,” said Sughra Naqvi ’03, vice president of MECA, and the other project director.

“Muslims are in Europe, Asia, Africa, America — all over the world. I wanted to show people a different aspect of Islam and Muslims and by showing and showcasing their culture.”

The banquet included a Qur’an recitation by Abdulaziz Alkhalifa ’06, songs from the Madrasa al-Rumman Chorus, and slide show of fashions throughout the Muslim world, in addition to a meal. The meal included dishes from nations with Muslim populations, ranging form gado-gado from Indonesia to a Gambian peanut stew to key lime pie.

There were two keynote addresses at the banquet, on from Prof. Mahmoud Ayoub, chair, Islamic Studies, Temple University, and the other from Prof. Barbra von Schlegell, religious studies, University of Pennsylvania.

Ayoub’s address was titled “Islam: A Personal Faith?” and addressed the role of religion in a modern, secular society. Ayoub drew on the experience of his own personal spiritual journey to illustrate his message. Ayoub, who is blind, discussed his conversion from Islam to various sects of Christianity, and then his return back to Islam, emphasizing the parallels between the two systems of belief. Ayoub said he hoped to see a “dawn of a day of faith and divine life that will shine over the hearts of all.”

Von Schlegell’s address was called “Why Sufism? Mystical Islam from the Qur’an to the 21st Century.” She discussed the history of Sufism, which is Islamic mysticism.

“As a reality, it means that five pillars Sufi Muslims who also practiced a form of meditation and chanting, called dhikr, which means remembrance,” von Schlegell said. “It’s the inner practice inner practice of Islam that can never be divorced from the outer practice.”

After the addresses, there was a one-act skit performed by al-Khasirun to highlight some of the idiosyncrasies of life for a modern American-Muslim family. The skit examined the role of gender, academics and marriage in many Islamic cultures in a humorous context.

The program concluded with Hadith Cookies, which are cookies that have hadiths, or small reports of the sayings, actions, opinions and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, baked inside.

Many in attendance found the event informative and interesting.

“I think that it is a really great opportunity just to expose Islamic culture to non-Muslims and to the administration as well,” said Afsha Avid ’04, an attendee. “I think that this dinner has really pulled together the different variety of cultures.”

Archived article by David Hillis