Helping build the community, quietly

Being a student at the largest university in the state can be difficult. Between the crowded classrooms and the hectic daily schedule, it can be hard to find a place for yourself on campus.

Being a student at the largest university in the state can be difficult. Between the crowded classrooms and the hectic daily schedule, it can be hard to find a place for yourself on campus.

Some students however, have found that place on the third floor of Cramer Hall. Away from the crowd and the noise is a quiet lounge often use for meditation and prayer by Muslim students at Portland State.

The Muslim Student Association is perhaps the largest student group on campus that often goes relatively unnoticed. With membership numbering 130 students, the MSA has been an active participant in shaping the Portland State community, and they have done so without much fanfare.

MSA President Erica Charves explains that this is due to the Islamic culture of humbleness that put an emphasis on privacy and respect. Tad’a, or humility, is one of the important virtues in Islam.  

As president of the MSA, Charves’ goal is to educate students and the community about Islamic culture. Along with Maha Razzaki, MSA event coordinator, they hope to promote a positive image of Islam that had been plagued by misconceptions and inaccurate portrayals in the media. [Editor’s note: Razzaki is a former Vanguard news writer.]

“I feel like the media have a lot to do with how Muslims are depicted, they usually take something and blow it out of proportion and that happens with a lot other minority races,” Razzaki said. “They usually don’t report on things that are going well, just things that are problematic.”

Calling herself a double minority for her race and religion, Razzaki said what most people do not realize is that Islam is very diverse that encompasses people from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia to Africa. Born in Pakistan, Razzaki was raised in Singapore and moved to the United States when she was 12.

“Because Muslims are a majority in Pakistan, you don’t think about it as much. In Singapore, there is very diverse population, and everything is accommodated—we get off days for Islamic holidays,” she said. “It’s different living in America, where Islamic holidays are not accommodated.”

Taking on the task of promoting Islamic culture, Razzaki and Charves are currently putting together Islam Awareness Week, an event celebrated by many universities across the country. The celebration begins at the end of April, with this year’s focus on the Somalian community and an Islamic fashion show.

“Some people like to wear the hijab for fun in the fashion show, because they can be very stylish. You can match it with your outfit,” Charves said.

According to Razzaki, the Somalian community will be highlighted at this year’s Islamic Awareness Week because Portland State has a large population of Somalian students.

“There will also be a lecture that discuss the negative images and stereotypes associated with Islam,” she said. “We are very excited about that because a lot of what the media said about Islam is not true.” 

As a group, the MSA made one of their lasting achievement for Muslim students in 2006 when their president at the time, Mikail Ali, along with his brother and two other MSA members, secured a meditation and prayer space in Cramer Hall.

In the Islamic tradition, Muslims perform daily prayers five times a day: at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall. The act is meant as a personal communication with God.

According to Charves, Portland State has about 700 Muslim students and with that comes the need for a personal space to accommodate these students. The space is intended for prayer and meditation for all students, not just Muslims.

“It’s a tiny space that is very useful and beneficial to students. Before we had that space, most students had to go to their dorm room to pray, some find a quiet spot in Smith,” Razzaki said. “However, it’s more convenient because a lot of people don’t want to do it in a random spot and most universities usually have some kind of designated area.”

The effort to secure a quiet lounge was spearheaded by the MSA’s president and members. According to Ali, the process was long and difficult. He and MSA members at the time meet with the school administrators for a series of meeting concerning how to find and maintain such space.
The MSA continues to meet with the school administrators every year to renew the rights of students to keep that space, Razzaki said.

Razzaki believes that the school administration has done well in supporting the Islamic culture at the university, however, she notes that they could have done more to accommodate students.

“One thing that I think would be nice is if we can have that area established as quiet lounge for prayer and meditation instead of having to come in every year to renew it,” she said.