Feb. 19 seminar featured nationally-acclaimed speakers on media stereotypes of Islam and America.
2/9/2005 3:59:51 PM
(l. to r.) Conference organizers Amina Rubin, Diana Andanut, and Atefeh Leavitt
LYNCHBURG-- When Atefeh Leavitt and Amina Rubin helped create the United Muslimahs (UMMAH) club at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College shortly before the world was shocked by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, they never imagined the group would find itself serving the entire community, nor did they imagine they would be organizing a second community seminar in just two years.
Leavitt and Rubin simply wanted to help other students at their college understand and accept the Muslim faith and lifestyle.
The first Pathways to Understanding workshop in 2003 dealt with enhancing the dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims and drew nearly 180 participants from the community
Now, two years later, members see the need for further discussion. As images of terrorism and the war in Iraq crowd television and other media, the students have another image of Islam to portray – one of peace, of faith and of tolerance.
The second Pathways to Understanding seminar was held on Feb. 19 in Houston Memorial Chapel at Randolph-Macon Woman's College. This year's seminar focused on media images of Islam and America, and featured three nationally-known speakers and question and answer sessions.
“I hope with this event, we can build on the foundations of the first seminar to promote dialogue and exploration of the images and ideas brought to us by the media every day,” said Leavitt, the club president. “I hope we can discuss how those images affect us all, Muslims and non-Muslims, and help people to reflect on how they view and are viewed by Muslims in the United Statesand around the world.”
More importantly, she said, she hopes the dialogue will “clarify some misunderstandings and break some stereotypes.”
After Sept. 11, the club found itself filling a void, not only in the college community, but in the region. They sponsored discussion, spoke at various civic organizations and did everything they could to change the way their part of the world viewed Muslims.
“Our club was formed just before Sept. 11, and our first public event was an interfaith candlelight vigil on Sept. 12,” said Rubin, who is also the club treasurer. “Since then, I’ve found that one of our most important functions is making ourselves available and approachable to answer questions people have about Islam, especially when it is so often associated with war and terrorism in the media.”
Made up of both Muslims and non-Muslims, UMMAH seeks to encourage dialogue in the community.
The students talk with church groups, participate in interfaith dialogue with other religious groups on campus, and have traveled as far away as Portsmouth to make presentations at conferences.
“Being a part of UMMAH as a non-Muslim has helped me learn a lot about Islam as a religion and culture,” said Diana Andanut, another student. “Being able to attend and plan some of the UMMAH events has helped me have an insight in the lives and culture of my Muslim friends, which has been highly important to me as a person and a student.”
The February seminar was designed to encourage discussion of how the American and Muslim media promote the image of Muslims in American and the consequences of that as well as what media from abroad promote as an image of America.
“We will have achieved at least part of our goal if audience members are inspired to think differently about the images of Islam that they see in the media, or if they come away with a clearer understanding of Islam as a faith rather than as a political entity,” Rubin said.
The scheduled speakers were all nationally-acclaimed and brought a range of expertise. The ma
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