Abunaim Rahman first became involved with RIT’s Muslim Students Association (MSA) during his freshman year nearly five years ago. Now, as he nears graduation this May, he leads the organization in its efforts to reach out to RIT’s student body about Islamic faith and culture. Between April 8 and 12, MSA hosted its largest event of the year: Islam Awareness Week. Each year between the months of March and May, colleges throughout the United States host educational events for a five-week period to help people of all faiths learn more about Islam. In the Rochester area, RIT, St. John Fisher College and the University of Rochester team up to provide activities that connect their Islamic student populations to the larger student body.
The RIT group began their efforts by hosting an informative table between April 9 and 10 in the Student Alumni Union. “Basically, we handed out pamphlets. What’s happening, you know, try to encourage people to come,” explained Rahman. “And, on the side, you get to know about Islam as well, so it has a promotional awareness to it. The main focus is, we’re really trying to make the events, the Muslim Student Organization and Islam more visible to the community here at Rochester Institute of Technology.”
The main events hosted by the group began April 11, with the Fast-A-Thon. This event was not unique to RIT, and was in fact held by numerous other Eastern U.S. colleges on the same day. Each attendee was encouraged to fast for the day in some form, as explained by Rahman; “We challenge everybody to fast for as many hours as you can, and then we break fast together at 7:40, approximately, when the sun is going down.” During the fast, those in attendance were taught about fasting, how it is used in Islam and how the action is connected to the Islamic faith and traditions. Though the largest group represented at this event tends to be Muslim students, Rahman noted that curiosity draws in interfaith students as well; “I’m really happy that, at yesterday’s event [Fast-a-Thon], about five or six non- Muslim members showed up as well, and they were really interested to learn about Islam and our religion and our student body club, the Muslim Student Organization, what we do; we had a conversion. That was really fruitful, and I’m really happy that they came.”
The Fast-a-Thon was followed up by a movie night April 12. Though still educational, the event was planned to be more relaxed than Fast-a-Thon and far more casual. “We really open it up to the guests that are coming in, so if you have any questions about Islam or you want to know something about the Muslim Student Organization, or even what the religious life here at this campus looks like.” The week was planned to draw to a close with the final and largest event, the Interfaith Dialogue session hosted by the Center for Religious Life. The event is unique, as nearly every religious group and association on campus was invited to send a speaker for a panel-style discussion activity. Events similar to Fast-a-Thon were planned at the other major universities in the area. For two hours on Saturday April 13, the floor was open for questions from anyone for any of the religious groups being represented.
The final event was designed to emphasize the interfaith aspects of Islam Awareness Week. Since religious students of all faiths often have a difficult time maintaining worship habits upon entering college, Rahman and the MSA hope to present the different religious groups and opportunities available on campus; “Our main target is not just Muslims. It’s all the students, every single student at RIT. And that’s what really makes it a diverse event. Because I know RIT is really known for its diversity, so we’re really trying to emphasize that in our events.”