Originally published October 29, 2010
Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series exploring student participation in religion on campus.
Look for the rest of the series in the next issue.
Islam is one of the fastest growing religions and the chosen faith of 1.2 billion people in the world.
In recent years the Muslim Student Association has seen its fair share of growth too.
President of the organization, senior Bilaluddin Mohammed said he has seen an increase of new members joining the religion.
“Over the past four years, I have seen around 15 students join Islam,” he said. “As their own choice they wanted to accept the religion.”
Mohammed said interested students are always welcome to join the association, although joining Islam is difficult at first.
Junior physics major Ryan Crawford gained interest in Islam during high school and recently converted to Muslim. He said it has been is difficult to have discipline and follow dietary needs of the religion.
“It is an ongoing process,” Crawford said. “Even for people who were born Muslim, it is a process of learning.”
Islam consists of five pillars, if one does not follow all five they “are not Islam” said Mohammed.
The five pillars are Testimony (Shahadah), Compulsory Prayer (Salah), Charity (Zakah), Gasting (Sawm) and Pilgrimage (Hajj).
In Muslim culture, the five pillars are considered basic, but to an outsider, the pillars may be seen as structured and even strict.
Under the second pillar, Compulsory Prayer, followers of Islam must call on prayer five times a day; before sunrise, at sun high in the afternoon, in the evening before sunset, at sunset and at night. Prayer at these times is mandatory for each follower and only lasts 10 to 15 minutes.
Being on a college campus with busy schedules, it would seem that praying at theses times would be difficult, but Mohammed said it isn’t a struggle.
“We have been naturally trained and raised to pray five times a day, so it isn’t hard,” he said. “At school it takes time management. Many students make their schedules so they have don’t have any classes during prayer time.”
Members of MSA prefer to pray together, so during prayer times many meet at the MSA house located on Main Street to partake in prayers lead by a leader. If they are unable to meet with the group, they pray by themselves.
Mohammed said while he is studying in the library, he has no problem getting on the floor next to his table and quietly praying.
“We don’t disturb anyone, it is just silent prayer. I do get looks because the movements of prayer are awkward, but usually people are friendly,” he said. “If people don’t know what I am doing and are interested to learn something I will explain to them to help them understand.”
Mohammed said during the winter or busy class days, it is difficult to make it to the MSA house during prayer times. He is hoping find a place to create a prayer hall on campus, just a small space for 30 people to pray together.
“Here on campus I have prayed on the quad many times,” said Crawford. “Mainly because of the lack of somewhere else to go and pray. To be honest, I am not concerned with how people react to me praying because my mind is else where.”
Aside from praying often on busy class days, there are many other obstacles Islamic college students have to face. As part of Islam, dating and pre-martial sex are not allowed and alcoholic drinks are also prohibited.
“If I didn’t have a friend in my religion it would be hard,” Mohammed said. “Temptation is human nature, but our religion teaches us to keep good company.”
MSA member Ayesha Qudratt said growing up and not being able to date isn’t always easy.
“It is hard to abstain from the opposite sex, being in a college setting where people around you are dating,” she said. “When you are alone with guy you have to remember there is a third person there.”
Although it is traditional for parents to arrange marriages, Qudratt said a marriage will never be forced.
“You meet the man you’re being set up with several times and you are able to see just how religious the other family is,” she said. “You are not forced into marriage, if you do not like him or are not attracted you them you don’t have to agree to marry,”
It is a common misunderstanding is to why Muslim women are required to cover their whole body, with the exception of their face and hands.
Yusra Baig, a wife of a Mosque leader in Iowa said wearing a hijab and covering her entire body is part of their religion not a culture.
“It is our faith, it is part of modesty to cover yourself and that way makes you more liberated,” she said. “You wouldn’t expose a precious jewel, instead you would cover it in a treasure chest. We wouldn’t want to expose ourselves to strangers.”