A tweet written by the author about her jihad.
A tweet written by the author about her jihad.

Islam Awareness Week took place last week at Trent, but organizers didn’t relegate activities solely to the classroom. Social media use, alongside traditional methods of communication like lectures, was instrumental in addressing and correcting misunderstandings some people might have throughout the week.

The week, hosted by the Trent Muslim Students Association (TMSA), began on March 2. Events centered on an effort to provide insight and perspective into what it means to be a Muslim. There is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to the true meaning and intention behind Islam, a monotheistic faith stemming from the Abrahamic tree of religions.

I asked TMSA President Bakhtawar Riaz about the significance of social media to the Muslim community. Riaz responded that “social media for Muslims is very important. I think what Muslims lack these days is unity, and Twitter has the ability to unite Muslims who would otherwise be divided on cultural, political, etc lines. It connects people from all over the world. You realize how large and diverse the Ummah is. Information and causes spread rapidly, raising thousands of dollars and awareness on issues that otherwise are ignored.”

But the importance of social media in an academic context is even greater for Riaz. “Many Islamic scholars have Twitter, so the average Muslim can ask scholars questions directly, and they usually reply back. If used sincerely, it [social media] encourages discussion, and allows different perspectives to be heard. It also provides a community, especially for new Muslims!”

The first event of the week was a lecture on the concept of Jihad in Islam. In addition to the lecture, the TMSA encouraged individuals to post an inner struggle they were experiencing with the tag “#MyJihad”. The purpose of this was to reflect upon how the word Jihad means “the struggle within” in the context of the life of the everyday Muslim.

The word jihad has been misconstrued and used in the media with negative connotations.  The lecture and online discussion via hashtag were an attempt to take back the word, which is important to so many Muslims.

On the day of the event, as well as throughout the week, many posts popped up on Twitter, with tweets like #MyJihad is to not judge people by their cover.”

On Tuesday March 3, there was a lecture on the mannerisms and legacy of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). The hashtag “#WhoIsMuhammed” accompanied the lecture, in an endeavor to educate people on why the Prophet Muhammed is so beloved by Muslims all over the world.

March 4 saw a friendly discussion panel on the hijab (see page 12 for more). It gave people the opportunity to try on the hijab and learn about its significance from Muslim women. People were encouraged to ask questions and post what they learned or why the hijab was important to them with the tag “#HijabiDiaries”.

But the hashtag wasn’t all; in order to promote the event, the TMSA posted a video of Muslim women who wear the hijab answering questions, such as when they first started wearing the headscarf. The video was meant to create an open dialogue and encourage people to attend the event.

TMSA President Riaz said “the focus with IAW this year was to make it BIG. Unfortunately the library display case was booked throughout the month of March, so we thought to take the publicity online!”

Riaz continued “the hope was that the individuals who were unable to make it to the Bata booth or events, or didn’t know about IAW, could be given a chance to interact with us [online]. The main objective of IAW was to interact with students and faculty, where they can ask whatever question they want and be provided with an answer by a Muslim.”

On March 6, the TMSA offered an offline, in-person, drop-by discussion panel where people were welcome to ask any general questions they had from the week.

“We’ve had people come talk to us at the booth. We also gave out gift bags with an IAW flyer, Islam Q&A pamphlet, a bag of chips, and some candy,” Riaz stated.

Social media has created a community for like minded people who are able to share and spread ideas for the better. This has benefited the Muslim community and allowed them to provide perspective for those who may be misinformed about the realities of Islam. In an era where Islam is being highly misrepresented, social media is very important to Muslims as a way to communicate and share their truths.

TMSA planned a week that raised awareness on campus as well as on social media hubs like Twitter and Facebook. By doing so, they were able to create an open discussion on the concept of jihad, the intentions of the hijab, as well as an exploration of the Qur’an and the life and mannerisms of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH).

You can follow the TMSA on Facebook or Twitter to get updates on any events they may have planned, or view any hashtags used during Islam Awareness Week to learn more about Islam.