The Muslim Student Association's Islam Awareness Week will be the group’s first full week of activities to share Muslim students’ experiences and educate University of Richmond students about Islam.

The events will include community service, an open prayer and an Islam 101 class from March 26 through March 30, Muslim Chaplain Waleed Ilyas said. The group is putting more of an emphasis on the week to spark dialogue and recognition of Muslim students on campus, he said.

For Ilyas, the most important event of the week is Unity is Power, a speaking forum for Muslim students to be held on Wednesday, March 28. The group hosts Unity is Power every year, he said, but changes the event's themes. This year, the topic of discussion will be the significance of prayer versus action.

Ilyas said the topic had been chosen following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14. The political response following the shooting emphasized thoughts and prayers rather than action, he said.

“I’m trying to reach out to the students to see when in their spiritual life do they understand that ‘I can’t just sit here and pray, I can’t be the best Muslim I can inside the house, I actually have to do some action to go along with that prayer,’” he said.

Najwa Labban, a junior in MSA, will speak at her third Unity is Power this year.

“I love getting the chance to talk about my religion to anyone that’ll listen,” Labban said, “because it feels like I’m doing both my faith a favor and them a favor, just by improving everybody’s understanding.”

In addition to Unity is Power, MSA will also be participating in a service event with Virginia Commonwealth University’s MSA students. They will hand out carnations and Islamic sayings in Tyler Hanes Commons, as well as hold an open prayer service.

The activities will address topics of jihad, hijabs and Islamic prayer.

Muhammad Coovadia, a junior in MSA, wants the week’s activities to spark thought and dialogue about the Islamic faith, he said.

Labban said Islam Awareness Week would be important in this political environment because certain policies of the presidential administration seemed to target Muslims. Hearing about the Islamic faith and the experiences of Muslim student could spur recognition of legislation that is unconstitutional or targets a race, she said.

Ilyas hopes that the week will not only provide Muslim students a space to talk about their faith on campus, but also give the rest of the student body the opportunity to learn about Islam from their peers rather than the media, he said.

The media often focuses on the negative acts of the Islamic and does not recognize their acts of good, he said.

“This is not something you turn your TV on for,” he said. “These are people you walk into school with everyday, that are a part of your life, you get to meet them, you get to talk to them, you get to understand how they live their lives. I don’t think it can get any more real than that.”

This is Ilyas’s first year working as the Muslim chaplain for UR. As the former president of VCU’s MSA, Ilyas worked on their own Islam Awareness week, an event that is held by MSAs throughout the country, he said.

UR’s MSA has around 15 active members. Ilyas said the club allowed Muslim students to freely practice their religion, figure themselves out and find support.

“Being a minority sort of puts you in a box, that’s just how it is,” Ilyas said. “My goal is for the students that I lead and the students I represent to be a little more free and enjoy themselves.”

Contact news writer Alexis Angelus at alexis.angelus@richmond.edu.

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