We’re taught that spreading the beauty of Islam is important, but often times we misunderstand the ways in which we can do that. To be quite honest, going up to someone who has no understanding of the faith and attempting to explain the rules and principles of it is the most ineffective method there is. At that point, all they get out of the conversation is that it’s difficult and they develop this understanding of our faith that is far from the reality. The best and most realistic way in which we can show the true beauty of Islam, especially with how the media portrays it lately, is by showing Islam through our characteristics. The same can be said about Muslims. The media can push the idea that Muslims are bad people all they want, but it’s in our hands to change that. If someone who knows nothing about Islam has even just one Muslim friend that carries themselves in the way Islam teaches, there is no way they’ll believe the headlines that the media pushes on them. Our very own Project SALAM sponsors a Muslim Student Association at Lockport Township High School (LTHS) that was a real life example of this point.
Having a Muslim Student Association (MSA) in every high school is truly essential. It’s a safe space for students in their most impressionable and difficult years of their lives. Unfortunately, it can be more difficult to portray that to the administrations of certain schools. Lockport Township High School, a local high school in our community, was one of the more difficult ones. Their journey started in the 2014-2015 school year, with a few of our youth leaders recognizing the need for it and proposing it to the school. During this time, these individuals were attending monthly workshops with Project SALAM, developing leadership skills and ensuring that their organization would be funded once the school gave its approval. By the 2nd semester of the school year, the MSA still had not gotten approval to officially start up, but the youth leaders at the school decided they’d start it up unofficially. It was becoming increasingly apparent that the Muslim students at LTHS needed a place that they could feel they belonged, a place they could learn how their faith could strengthen their ability to impact their communities. Islam is not supposed to be an exclusively internal thing after all; it is supposed to start internally and radiate to the exterior and that is ultimately what MSA teaches. For a full semester, the LTHS MSA ran weekly and unofficially on school grounds. Because it was not official yet, the students utilized their cafeteria as their meeting location every Thursday, making the best out of a tough situation.
Still, as the school year came to an end, the school had not yet approved an official MSA to run, and the leaders that were pushing for it all graduated that spring. Although they had picked and trained other younger members to take over the MSA the next school year and to continue to pursue the goal of getting it approved, it became difficult to pursue it without the support of the school administrators. It was by no means the fault of the school or the students, but it became a lot more complicated than was expected. With that, MSA did not run officially or unofficially for a full school year. In the 2016-2017 school year, however, a new group of leaders, who were also trained and supported by Project SALAM, renewed the goal of starting MSA back up at LTHS. In the spring semester that year, students held meetings unofficially off school grounds at a nearby Culvers in order to avoid inconveniencing the school while they were in the midst of trying to get the organization approved. In the meantime, a community dinner was held at OPPC. This dinner is one that occurs every year, with local government officials, school officials/staff, and many others that help our community invited to attend. The LTHS principal and superintendent were invited that year, and it made a huge impact in the MSA approval process. Seeing how Muslims acted, their mannerisms, and achievements that were highlighted at the dinner gave them a better understanding and respect for the Muslim community. The LTHS officials left with a determination to help the MSA with anything it needed to move the approval process along. Soon afterwards, the MSA was approved and it is now officially and successfully running, acting as a place to gain knowledge, support system, and safe space for many students.
This inspiring story goes to show just how big of a difference simply having the beautiful traits that Islam teaches us makes. The community dinner was a fabulous opportunity to represent what Islam is to people in our community who truly may not know. However, it does not have to be a big event like that for us to do so. If you live your life with those Islamic traits of excellence, if you implement them in every interaction you have, then you are automatically representing Islam to everyone you encounter. Islamic characteristics are not just ones Muslims can appreciate; they are truly ones that fit the good in humanity as a whole. Spread Islam by being Islam. If you or anyone you know is interested in starting up a MSA in your high school, feel free to contact Ahmed Mizyed at 708-655-5669 in order to get the guidance, support, and/or funding that the Project SALAM team can provide. I ask that you keep the LTHS MSA and the Project SALAM team in your most sincere prayers.
By Aydah Nofal