The questions people ask Gurpreet Gill are simple but repetitive: What are you wearing on your head? Why do you have to pray at certain times?
Being a Muslim in Montana is a "bit difficult," the Montana State University cell biology and neuroscience student conceded.
Gill, an exchange student from Malaysia, said her faith has been challenged since she arrived in Montana last August.
"When I first came here I didn't see any Muslims or a mosque," she said. "Spiritually I was getting a bit shaky."
Sometimes classes were difficult. Her English teacher didn't understand her head scarf. And when one of Gill's mandatory prayer times fell during her three-hour science lab, Gill asked if she could be excused for a few minutes each lab. The teacher asked why Gill couldn't pray after class.
Off campus, life was difficult, too. Once, when Gill was shopping with a friend at Old Navy she saw two women run away from her.
Finally, she was introduced to Raima Amin, leader of the Muslim Student Association. Amin told Gill about MSA, an organization devoted to reaching out to the community in various ways, from answering simple questions about the Muslim faith to raising food for the Gallatin Valley Food Bank.
Now the MSA is tackling some those persistent questions about Islam.
On Wednesday, Feb. 16, John Esposito, an international affairs and Islamic studies professor at Georgetown University and founder of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, will deliver a free lecture based on his recent book "The Future of Islam," Amin said.
Esposito's articles and books have been translated into 30 languages and appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Economist. He has been interviewed on CNN, ABC's "Nightline," CBS, NBC, BBC and various other news outlets.
Although she enjoys answering questions about her faith, Amin said it will be nice to have Esposito discuss mainstream issues with a larger audience.
"I grew used to answering a lot of questions because I was often the only Muslim in class. I started to enjoy that role as an educator," Amin said. "I think this event with John Esposito will be really popular and show how interested the community is."
To bring Esposito to town, MSA had to do a lot of fundraising. Esposito's speaking fee is $5,000, excluding his travel and lodging expenses.
But Amin and Gill said the fee is worth is and cited a recent Gallup poll on some Americans' aversions to Muslims.
The poll found 57 percent of Americans found nothing to admire about Islam, while 43 percent admitted to feeling at least "a little" prejudice toward Muslims -- twice the number who feel that way about Christians, Jews and Buddhists.
Earlier this year, MSA also organized a Fast-A-Thon to encourage participants "to remember what it is like to be hungry," and think about those people in the world "who are constantly hungry," Amin said.
The Jan. 24 day-long fast was paired with food donations around campus. The non-perishable items were given to the food bank. And at dusk that day, fasting participants broke the fast together in the SUB ballroom over a spread of traditional Muslim dishes.
The organization's efforts paid off, the young women said. Two-hundred people fasted that day and participants donated 100 pounds of food.
Hannah Stiff can be reached at email@example.com