Members of the University of Michigan's Muslim Students' Association (MSA) invited the non-Muslim community to take a walk in their shoes this past week.
More than 20 Muslim students paired up with non-Muslim buddies to share their culture, religion and lifestyle. The event provided participants with a safe space to ask questions and an opportunity to clarify misconceptions about the religion of Islam.
"A lot of people, especially on campus, know about Islam and have heard about it through the media, but actually being able to sit down and talk to [a Muslim] is really appealing to people", said Afshan Khan, vice president of External Affairs for MSA. "They actually get the chance to see how we pray and see what goes on in the life of a Muslim behind the scenes."
"American Sons: Reflections on Being Muslim in America" was one of the events during "A Walk in My Shoes." Sponsored by the Ann Arbor Public Library, MSA and the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, the event featured a panel of five Muslim men who shared their testimonies and life stories. Dr. Sherman Jackson, a professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies and visiting professor of law at U-M, moderated the panel.
"I fell in love [with Islam] because I couldn't believe I was a better person," said Khidr Naeem, "You don't have to worry about anything with me, my family or my children."
Khidr Naeem, one of the panelists, spoke bluntly about the misconceptions often held of Muslims. He explained that Islam taught him to stop lying, to be kind to his mother and father and to help older women.
"Prejudice rarely survives experience," said Eman Abdelhadi, vice president of Internal Affairs for MSA. She urges the community to "be open and ask questions, try to engage people you might not know a lot about" and you will learn that we are not all that different from each other.
While MSA is a religious organization, a large part of their mission is community service.
"Muslims are Americans too, and we want to give back to the community," Khan said. "We love this place as much as anyone. I think a lot of people tend to forget that."
Katherine Axelsen is a Senior at the University of Michigan double majoring in English and Comparative Religion. She is an intern at AnnArbor.com and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another panelist, Shamael Haque, reflected on the events of September 11 attacks and the tensions it created within Muslim communities.
"We feel the pain for what it did to our country", said Haque, but, "it is as if American Muslims have to explain something they have nothing to do with."
The panel was informative, but Khan said the most memorable moments during the walk was "just having conversations about things that are not even Muslim and realizing we are not that different."