Muslim Student Association promotes diversity

by Susanne Harrison

It’s 12:45 p.m.  The professor’s lecture concerning the impacts of geology on dam design reaches its peak. Two students slip out of class to pray.

Although the above scene is fictional, incidents like this occur in Kent classrooms.

“Kent is very open-minded towards all people, regardless of their religion, nationality, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, etc.” said Tessa Engelhart. “No one judges a Muslimah because she covers, and our school allows them to have prayer rooms on campus as well as leave class early to pray.”

Engelhart, a second year master’s student, said she has witnessed students leaving class.  As an English as a Second Language major and employee of the Office of Global Education, it is her job to listen to the experiences of high school, transfer, and foreign students.

“I have heard horror stories about other schools where females are not accepted if they cover their face. We have a lot of niqabi’s at Kent who sit in class just like any other student. After awhile, you can recognize who is who just based off their eyes,” Engelhart said.

Since 1910, the university’s goal has been to make it easy for students to become part of the community.

“Kent has always been integrated mentally, if not physically,” said Barbara Hipsman, retired journalism professor, who taught at Kent for 26 years.  “When my daughters left [they] were disdainful of Kent.  They felt it was not hip, not integrated.  But they learned that people felt more welcomed in Kent than at the all-white towns their college friends came from.”

Of the 32 active religious groups on campus, one is run by Muslims.

“The Muslim Student Association (MSA) serves our students,”  Dr. Mahbobeh Vezvaei, professor of statistics and nonparametric said.

Kent Demographics - click to enlarge

Kent Demographics – click to enlarge

“The MSA strives to facilitate networking, educating, and empowering the students of today to be citizens of tomorrow’s community,” according to its mission statement.

The MSA is active both on and off campus. Each year, the MSA partners with the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent (ISAK) to do volunteer work.

“There is a very good relationship. [Students] usually go to masjed for prayer, speeches, dinners, and many other projects,” Vezvaei said.

Islam Awareness Week (ISA) is one such event where students volunteer to help.  They dedicate one week each year to promote positive understanding of Islam throughout the university community.

“The MSA provides information booths, and hosts campus events to help and educate others.  They asked Michael Moore to speak,” Vezvaei said. “They invited Muslim singers who sang with no instruments and entertained the people. They organized a major conference about Islam and invited prominent speakers a few years back,” she said.

“The MSA is vital to the preservation and promotion of Islam’s most essential practice—prayer,” according to MSA National’s charter.  The MSA’s most important function is to provide, maintain, and communicate the location of prayer rooms, a  duty that is vital during Ramadan.

Ramadan is really a discipline,  a self discipline.  You know your life has meaning beyond just this world–to eat, to sleep.  This is the purpose of our creation.  Raise yourself, clean your soul, just because of God.  [It’s] something beyond spiritualism.  The spiritual world,” Vezvaei said.

“Students are seen praying all the time! We have prayer rooms in the Student Center and library, as well as in ESL,” Engelhart said. “Praying in groups is important, so, they are allowed to leave class 10 minutes early.  Friday’s Jummah prayer is especially important.”

“I love this about my school,” Engelhart said.  “We have so many groups on campus specifically for international students, and there are huge numbers of members, both American and foreign. It’s a great way to learn from each other.”