Community. Safe Haven. Family.
To its members, Islam on Campus is so much more than just a club to be in at UF, more than just a service organization, more than just a religious group. Yes, it is all those things, but it also provides a platform for connection and education.
“I was able to instantly meet and connect with people from all over that had similar ideals and backgrounds,” said Amna Qureshi, a freshman psychology major. “Islam on Campus allowed me to become part of a welcoming community, which has really lessened my homesickness and made my transition to UF from Orlando much easier.”
“Many students at UF join organizations to find their home away from home, and that’s what Islam on Campus has done for me in my two years thus far,” said sophomore Azmeer Khamisani, majoring in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology and minoring in business. “I’ve met people I hope to know for more than just my time in college. It has given me opportunities to grow as a leader and gain spiritual knowledge in an accessible way.”
Yet Islam on Campus isn’t simply just for the fellowship of its members. They’ve put on events ranging from Fast-A-Thon, Islam Appreciation Month programming, bonfires, and spiritual events.
“I absolutely love listening to the awesome speakers that we bring out to talk about relevant topics regarding spirituality and the role of Muslim students when facing trials and tribulations,” said junior Rashhan Siddique, majoring in electrical engineering.
“We try to bring a community of Muslims together at UF and work with other organizations to hold events, especially social events, for the education of the public and UF students,” added Khamisani.
For Sama Azam, a senior majoring in Anthropology, IOC’s Fast-A-Thon not only was a celebration of rites sacred to her, but also an opportunity to share her faith and culture with friends.
“I feel that the traditional introduction speech the Imam makes before breaking the fast during the annual Fast-a-thon is very moving,” said Azam. “All members partake in the event, and both Islamic and non-Islamic people listen keenly as he speaks of the moral reasons behind fasting and the beauty of Islam as a whole. I took a friend of mine, and although she considers herself an Atheist, she found that the imam’s message was very insightful and morally sound.”
Another of IOC’s largest events is their participation
in Islam Appreciation Month. Designed to “build bridges and break barriers,” inter-faith mingling and interactive activities provide an opportunity for non-Muslims and Muslims alike to find common ground and gain a deeper understanding of Islam. Celebrations ranged from a fair with henna artwork and cultural food, to lectures addressing Islamophobia and common misconceptions about Islam, to a bonfire where Qiyam, a traditional prayer, was spoken over s’mores and hot dogs, to even Hijab Day, where participants Muslim and non-Muslim alike were able to don a hijab for the day to explore a woman’s role in Islam.
“Islam on Campus has three words that represent their purpose: learn, practice, and share,” said Qureshi. “IOC encourages continuous learning, practicing what is learned, and sharing what is learned with others.”
“After speaking with several people of different faiths and backgrounds, they all enjoy and appreciate what IOC does, by holding events like Fast-A-Thon to unite the Gainesville community to raise money for the less fortunate,” said Siddique.
Nevertheless, anti-Islamic sentiment has not disappeared simply after a few successful campus events. Less than welcoming attitudes persist occasionally, and IOC hosts campus-wide events in an effort to better educate the Gainesville community on the differences between the religion of Islam and those who practice it, including those who take it to violent extremes.
“As Muslims, it is our duty to enjoin good and forbid evil, and this includes denouncing terrorist organizations like ISIS, because what they claim about Islam is absolutely false,” said Siddique. “I believe that Muslims should combat the negative perceptions about Islam, but at the same time, it is a responsibility for ALL of us, Muslims and non-Muslims, to learn about the religion and the history of the negative perceptions and Islamophobia.”
“Overall, I feel like Gainesville is a safe, friendly and supportive environment, but there have been a few exceptions every now and then, as expected,” said Khamisani. “I do not personally feel a responsibility to combat negative perceptions directly, because then it becomes a back and forth between attacking and being defensive. The best way is for people to let their actions be their argument.”
Moving into the future, Khamisani, Qureshi, Azam, and Siddique all agree that IOC should send out a message of peace, and continue to act as a non-discriminatory educator for the UF community and beyond.
“The one message I hope this organization sends is simply one that makes people aware of the difference between religion and the people who follow the religion,” said Khamisani. “Islam preaches peace, regardless of what is going on in the world right now.”
Photos by Shayli Patel