February 26, 2012

At Cornell Banquet, Campus Mulls Place of Muslims in U.S.

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At the first All Cornellian Muslims Banquet, administrators, faculty and student leaders sought to dismiss misconceptions about Muslim-Americans that they said are prevalent in modern society.

More than 90 people flocked to the atrium of Duffield Hall for the event, which was hosted by the Committee for the Advancement of Muslim Culture.

The name of the event is based on the title of the television show All-American Muslim. Adam Abboud ’14, co-vice president of CAMC, said the program shows Muslim-American families who act the same as other American families.

“We wanted to show that we’re just like everyone else; we have normal goals and varied interests,” Abboud said. “It is important to humanize the image of Islam, which is why the event was spoofed off that title.”

The evening began with a presentation that outlined basic facts about Islam, followed by a video that showcased the individual personalities of various Muslim Cornell students. Attendees then split into 12 groups, each with a faculty member and a CAMC student, for more intimate discussion.

“Through the structured dialogues, students and faculty could directly learn from the Muslim student,” Abboud said. “The conversations are where stereotypes and misconceptions are broken.”

While discussion topics varied from table to table, they all shared a common theme: the relationship between Muslim culture and religion.

“The idea of cultural Muslims is something not a lot of people are familiar with,” said Sara Rahman ’12, president of CAMC. “People may have ethnic ties to being Muslim, or they just share common values with their religion, but they’re not necessarily 100-percent practicing.”

Abboud said the banquet’s attendees should spread its message.

“I encouraged everyone to take the conversations they had today wherever they go on campus to their respective communities to continue learning from each other,” he said. “One important thing I noticed is that the greatest learning isn’t in, but outside of, the classroom, with your peers.”

Rahman said she wanted a diverse group of people to attend the banquet, so CAMC invited members of several different campus organizations.

“It worked out really well because we got a diverse array of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and a couple of seniors here and there,” Rahman said. “We also had people from every single college, which was amazing.”

Rahman said she first thought of hosting a banquet last semester after an encounter with a professor.

“I [hosted] another event called ‘Women in Islam’ and [Prof. Robert Babcock, policy analysis and management], contacted me and said he couldn’t come to the event but he didn’t know anything about Islam and wanted to learn more,” Rahman said. “I met and had lunch with him and he was asking me all these questions, and I realized many people don’t know anything about Islam.”

Noah Karr Kaitlin ’13, president of the Cornell International Affairs Review, attended the banquet.

“One of the points brought up in my table’s discussion was how it’s important to be patient when you’re struggling to gain respect in American society,” Kaitlin said. “We focused on the Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.], quote: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice,’ and that is the whole idea.”

Kaitlin said he was impressed by the event.

“This was a really special opportunity to bring together all these different people with all these different backgrounds and present them to each other in a show of solidarity with this emerging minority group going through a tough time,” Kaitlin said. “Everyone I talked to afterwards just said their conversations were terrific and really insightful.”

Founded in fall 2010, CAMC was awarded the James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial Understanding and Harmony in March 2011 for making the most significant contribution to interracial harmony on campus.

Winning the prize “showed us that what we’ve been doing is good,” Rahman said. “Hopefully, this will be an annual event.”

Original Author: Caroline Simon