On Friday, UNC students traveled to Apex Mosque to get experience with Muslim culture outside the classroom.
The trip included a guided tour of the facility and services provided at the Apex Mosque, an exhibition of Arabic art and calligraphy, a showing of the video "Muslims in America" and a speech and prayer.
The tour was organized and led by Khalid Shahu, an Arabic lecturer within the Department of Asian Studies at UNC.
Shahu said this was the fourth year he and other faculty members have organized this trip to the Apex Mosque.
"We believe that learning the language can be a great opportunity for students to be exposed to other cultures and the building of their understanding of the community," he said. "There is a lot of misunderstanding, so we just thought that taking students to the mosque may be a good opportunity for them to learn about the Muslim community and the traditions, the culture and how they contribute to the well-being of the at-large community."
First-year Samer Alasmar came on the tour as a part of his Arabic class taught by Shahu.
"I thought the tour was interesting," he said. "I've been to different mosques but never the Apex Mosque."
Alasmar said his biggest takeaway from the tour was a greater understanding of American Muslims. He said he liked how the tour went further than just discussing Islam in general.
Mollie Sullivan, a first-year global studies and peace, war and defense major said she heard about the tour from Alasmar, a classmate.
"I'm interested in learning about other cultures and global perspectives and where different people come from," she said.
Sullivan said she thought the tour was very well done and informative.
"I liked the informational displays they had out that explained exactly what Islam is and its origins," she said. "I also liked how they had a focus on American Muslims and how they have contributed to society."
She said from the tour, she is taking away a better understanding of Islam and the importance of experiencing other cultures and gaining new perspectives.
"I really wish more people would do that, more religions would interact with each other," she said.
Shahu said the trip to the Apex Mosque is just one of many extracurricular activities organized within the department to help students learn about different cultures outside of a classroom environment. Other activities Shahu has organized include Arabic Night and Moroccan Night.
In addition to teaching Arabic, Shahu is also an Imam, or Muslim community leader, at the Apex Mosque.
"As Imam, I offer a lot of lectures, classes, including Arabic classes, classes about Islam," he said. "I also offer social counseling as well as matrimonial counseling for parents and for husbands and wives."
Shahu said he feels very lucky to have the opportunity to serve two different communities.
"I think the fact that I am acting as an Imam and I am teaching at UNC gives me a chance to help the campus community to get closer and see the Muslim community, which is a part of the entire community here in the Triangle area," he said.
On the tour, Shahu stressed the inclusivity within the mosque. He said speeches and prayers on Friday are in English with some Arabic parts in order to reach a larger community. He said when one steps foot in the Apex Mosque, they are instantly a part of it no matter their background and that the differing ethnicities filling the mosque never affect the spirit of Islam.
"We are all human beings and we are all the same," he said.