CAIRO - The Harvard Islamic Society has kicked off its annual awareness month, hosting a series of events to bring attention to the Muslim community inside the campus and shed light on the contextualization of Islam and American culture.
We want to present this sense that Islamic values are very much a part of American life, Hassaan Shahawy '16, Harvard Islamic Society's (HIS) Director of Islamic Learning, told The Harvard Crimson.
We have events that show that it's not as dual as we think. It's not Islam versus the West, Islam versus science.
The misperception is that the two are at odds with each other, he added.
Events of the university's Islamic Awareness Week kicked off earlier this week with a talk titled What Muhammad Stood for, presented by Lesley Hazleton, author of The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad and veteran TED speaker.
Hazleton spoke about Muhammad's advocacy of social justice and the factors that led to Muhammad's role as a prophet.
Shahawy described Hazleton as an agnostic scholar and journalist who offers a unique perspective on the Middle East.
We wanted to give a perspective that's from a very creative source, a very modern person writing about these issues, he said.
We could have invited a traditional Islamic scholar, but we wanted to present it in a format that Harvard students could receive in a way that's understandable to them.
Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to an estimated Muslim minority of six to eight million.
An earlier Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans Muslims are loyal to their country and optimistic about their future in the United States.
Muslim students stressed that their events were aimed to contextualize the confluence of Islamic and American culture.
People always see Islam as a foreign phenomenon, Shahawy said.
But I find a lot of motivation for my American ideals and beliefs from the theology and workings of Islam.
Reaching out to both Muslim students and students of non-Islamic backgrounds, upcoming events also include a study break, a poetry night, and other talks on Islam.
The more common questions people have about Islam or religion in general, like science and religious fundamentalism, those are the issues that we are covering in our next events, said HIS Director of External Relations Omar A. Khoshafa '16.
The series of events will conclude with an elaborate Spring Dinner and a keynote address delivered by Comparative Religion Professor Diana L. Eck, who is also Director of the Pluralism Project.
In us choosing her, I think the message we want to end with is that there's a lot more in common than you think, said Khoshafa.
There are things we can contribute, and we'd love to continue the dialogue between faith and non-faith organizations beyond these three weeks.