Cheyenne Walsh

(ROCK HILL, S.C.) — A number of Winthrop University students and faculty are working to dispel what they said are misconceptions about Islamic faith and create a place where Muslims can represent who they truly are.

The Muslim Student Association was created two years ago, to “bring a sense of unity between Muslim and non-Muslim students on campus,” according to the university’s website.

“Our main, really goal is to try and bring more peace to this world, just unify students over different events and just help with the misconceptions of Muslims,” said Duha Hamed, an assistant professor of math and faculty advisor for the group.

Hamed said the portrayal of Muslims in the media has led to a negative view of the faith and of its people.

“Media is doing a great job splitting people into groups and it’s not something hidden, you see a lot of negativity from the media toward Muslims in general,” Hamed said. “Sadly, it’s promoting Islam as a violent religion, which is not the case, so we’re trying to help with that misconception.”

A 2017 study, published by the International Communication Gazette, concluded Muslims are often framed negatively and Islam is presented as a violent religion in media coverage.

Thus, Hamed was inspired to start the group, with the help of a number of Muslim students.

“I thought of the idea and at the same time I was talking to someone at the organizations about it and then someone came up and told me that there were interested students to initiate such an organization,” Hamed said.

Founding member Ayana Shahid began recruiting students to form the group, including Chandani Mitchell, current president of the Muslim Student Association.

“She came to me because there’s not many Muslims on campus and so there’s not many organizations that talk about Islamic beliefs and clears up the misconceptions about Muslims and Islam,” Mitchell said.

“So we saw this niche and she came to me and was like ‘Chandani, would you like to help me start this organization?’ And I was like ‘yeah, I wanted to do the same,’ and so we worked together.”

Within the past year, Mitchell said the group has given her and other members a voice on campus to educate people about Islamic faith by hosting a number of events.

One of the events was held on World Hijab Day, Feb. 1, which raises awareness of the head covering Muslim women often wear in public.

“The first part of the event, we had a tabling where people could try on the hijab and see how they look and how it felt. And then also ask…Muslim women who wear the hijab questions about wearing it or any other questions,” Mitchell said.

That was followed by a Winthrop sponsored cultural event, which featured a discussion about the meaning behind the hijab.

The group also regularly sponsors events that allow students to get a non-permanent henna tattoo, which often features a unique and elaborate design.

Recently, on a Friday afternoon, a henna tabling event attracted a line of 15 people, which is typically unheard of at Winthrop.

Sophomore political science major Kalin Bennett said she sees the organization as a form of empowerment and inspiration.

“I think it’s very empowering that you have a lot of people within Winthrop who are different cultures and religions, but at the same time it’s a little bit scary because with the current political state we have at the moment,” said Bennett. “I’m really admired by them because they have a lot of stamina in the current political state we have now.”

The organization has one more event scheduled this semester, which will combine the efforts of multiple organizations.

The Muslim Student Association; along with the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the Zeta Sigma Chi Multicultural Sorority, the Culture Club and possibly the Digiorgio Student Union; plans to host an event called Unity of Humanity.

The first hour of the cultural event will include poets, spoken-word artists and singers performing on the theme of unity. The second hour will be a time for socializing and eating Halal, a popular dish in Islamic culture.

The Unity of Humanity will be held on April 3 at 7 p.m. in the Richardson Ballroom of the Digiorgio Campus Center.

As the Muslim Student Association continues its efforts to educate and break stereotypes through events, Hamed said she hopes students remember Muslims are just like everyone else.

“We are just normal people. We love life, we love getting together, knowing others, bringing happiness; just like any other people around and sadly we have to take this role because who else is going to do it,” she said.