Sumayya Master is a marketing major at Oakland University in Michigan. She’s also the president of the Muslim Student Association, and a hijabi. All of these together, she feels, gives her a duty.
“I am tasked with the responsibility of showing people what Islam is all about. It’s my responsibility to positively represent my religion,” Master said. “In today’s world, I have to be careful not to say anything that may further the stereotypes.” She added that she often overcompensated, taking special pains to be as far from any Muslim stereotype as she could be.
Feeling the need to do more for positive visibility, Master encouraged the MSA to hold an ‘Ask a Muslim’ panel at the University, along with general outreach to counteract Islamaphobia.
“Our main goal was just to show like, ‘Hey, we understand how we are portrayed but we want you to understand that we are not actually like that,’” Master said.
Malik Balla, an associate professor of Arabic Studies at Oakland University, assisted in organizing the panel. It was his idea to offer food to attendees, both to draw people in and to be true to Muslim traditions of civility over a meal.
“Such an event becomes very special because food is life and gives people a chance to talk to each other and care about the life of each other,” Balla said.
The panel went very well, according to Masters and Ahmed Naseem, assistant president of the MSA. Questions, while occasionally ignorant, weren’t rude or hurtful, and the panelists connected well with the audience.
All in all, Masters thinks the event was a success and she hopes to hold it again. “Even if I changed just one perspective I would be satisfied. That one person could tell 10 more people and so on so forth.”