For Mariana Hernandez (COL ’14), attending Wednesday’s Muslim Students Association’s Ask It! (Anonymously) event helped dispel the confusion she had about Islam.

“I have a good friend who’s Muslim. I went to prayer with her last week and my mom kind of panicked,” Hernandez said. “I came to this meeting to learn more about Islam and erase stereotypes. I want to find out different perspectives to make my own judgments.”

Featuring a panel of three professors who answered anonymously submitted questions, the forum allowed for attendees to pitch sensitive, Islam-related questions in an academic setting.

“We wanted to provide a place for people to ask the questions that are consistently propagated about Islam. There are so many misconceptions and prejudices thrown about in official media sources and casual conversation,” said Noreen Shaikh (COL ’12), president of the Muslim Students Association and the main organizer of the event.

In the interest of open discussion, students were encouraged to ask questions anonymously before and at the start of the event.

“Anonymity is important so people can ask the questions they wouldn’t ask in class or to a Muslim friend,” Shaikh said. “There are topics that seem politically incorrect or insensitive. We felt anonymity was necessary to allow a blunt, candid discussion of Islam.”

The veil of anonymity provoked controversial questions on a range of topics encompassing Muslim attitudes toward Jews, the security of Muslims’ rights in the United States, the abuse of women and homosexuality.

According to Clare Wilde, professorial lecturer in the theology department, the evening exemplified how Georgetown can serve as a haven for open discussion and mutual understanding.

“Georgetown University has a great potential to serve as a majlis [or council] of sorts: a place of respectful encounter and engagement of individuals from a variety of backgrounds and experiences,” Wilde said.

Jonathan Brown, assistant professor of Islamic studies and Muslim-Christian understanding in the School of Foreign Service, and Paul Heck, associate professor in theology, also moderated the event.

The event drew students from a wide range of religious backgrounds. Nazhif Wan Yusoff (SFS ’12), a Muslim, attended because he wanted to see Islam discussed from an academic standpoint.

“I wanted to see what people have to say,” he said.

Colleen Creeden (COL ’14), sought a more personal perspective on the material she has been studying in her Introduction to Religious Thought course taught by Wilde.

“I want to hear more [of a] perspective from [Muslim] students about their everyday lives,” she said.

While Shaikh acknowledged that the panel of professors could not provide definitive answers to the students’ questions, she stressed that discourse on these sensitive Islam-related subjects helps to build a foundation of knowledge for complex issues.

“The opinions presented are samples from the gambit of scholarly opinion. I’m not trying to assert that these are definitive answers, but they are part of the discourse on Islam … There is no one answer,” she said.

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