Islam Awareness Week opens much-needed dialogue about faith

The current political climate provides a true litmus test of American character. With the aftermath of the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino shootings still lingering on the public mind and the inflammatory rhetoric that has been tossed around this campaign season, how we treat our fellow neighbors and human beings in spite of our differences in religion and culture will reveal the strengths – or weaknesses – of our community.

Improving mutual understanding is the goal of Islam Awareness Week, put on for the first time ever by the Muslim Students at the University of Miami (MSUM). Much of the current fear directed toward Muslims and Muslim Americans results from skewed assumptions about Islam. Politicians like Donald Trump have fueled this ignorance, considering the creation of a national Muslim registry and calling for the shutdown of certain mosques – proposals that President George W. Bush found “abhorrent.”

It is frightening how ugly fears can incite even more terrifying actions. Last November, right after the Paris attacks, a woman in a hijab who was waiting at a London Tube station was pushed from the platform into an oncoming train, luckily surviving despite injuries. According to a February 2016 summary by The New York Times, suspected hate crimes against Muslims in America have tripled since Paris. Closer to home, the Islamic School of Miami was vandalized last September with books on ISIS, wire cutters, a ceramic skull and a variety of other bizarre items and signs meant to intimidate mosque-goers. In Titusville, Florida, a mosque had its windows smashed in with a machete and pork nailed to its front door on New Year’s Day.

Therefore, it is timelier than ever to host an event like Islam Awareness Week on campus. The week provides students with a safe space to not only celebrate Islamic culture but, more importantly, also ask questions about Islam. Events during this week are focused on educating non-Muslims and dispelling misconceptions about Islam, such as “Ask a Muslim” and “Debunking Islamophobia.”

An educational dialogue will create a cooperative, respectful community, and Islam Awareness Week will help foster the sense of inclusion that President Julio Frenk has made one of his priorities at UM. For Muslim students on campus, this week will provide a chance to showcase their pride in their religion and culture. For students who still have many questions about the faith, this week may be an opportunity to start some meaningful conversations.

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.