Rejoicing in Differences with Muslim Student Association

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Campion Ballroom was buzzing the evening of April 20 as Seattle University students and community members gathered to share in the celebration of Islam at the Muslim Student Association’s (MSA) signature event, Rejoice.

Junior Cell and Molecular Biology major Salma Ramadan was a part of the group that started Rejoice. She and others on campus saw there was no Muslim core at Seattle U and were looking to show the community that the MSA was present and welcoming.

“It’s really easy for students to say ‘This is my token Muslim classmate’ and tie everything they know about Islam with this one person that they know because you don’t really know a lot of Muslims around here,” she said. “I love this event because one, it showcases our differences, but it also just shows how we’re also super united and we come from the same identity—we share this one major thing about us.”

Senior Sociology major Haleema Bharoocha is Vice President of MSA and said that the group was very intentional with their choice of theme, Unity in Difference. They wanted to ensure that people would be able to bring the wholeness of their identities to Rejoice.

“The theme of the event actually came from this idea from this verse in the Quran that says ‘We have made you people and tribes so that you may know one another’” she said. “I think this idea of ‘Let’s meet in the middle’ often has the implication that I’m supposed to throw away a part of my identity so that I can meet you in the middle so then we can affirm each other’s humanity.”

Bharoocha hoped that Rejoice could create a space where Muslim students felt comfortable enough to share the entirety of themselves, as opposed to having to change themselves to find common ground with their peers. She said that non-Muslim community members could gain a holistic view of Islam and see the huge range of people who could identify as Muslim.

Tables lined the walls of Campion Ballroom, with Muslim vendors displaying their products and student sharing their culture. Student booths represented heritage from Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Algeria and Somalia.

Junior Journalism and Communications major Amina Ibrahim was president of the MSA last year and said that the theme echoes original intentions of Rejoice when it started last year.

“We decided that people did not know the diversity within Islam and there is such a huge diversity of different ethnicities and racial backgrounds and we wanted to really showcase that,” she said.

The night centered performances from the history of black Muslims, another decision which Bharoocha said was very intentional, as black Muslims were integral in the formation of Islam to the United States.

“The way that they stuck together despite slave owners using the different sects of Islam to divide people, they never fell for those things,” she said. “They were the people who started Muslim schools in inner cities and all of that so they were really the foundation in America for Muslims so we were very intentional with centering that.”

Comedian Nancy “TwoScarves” Holbrook’s performance kept the audience laughing with her experiences as the only Muslim in her Kentucky Baptist family, which included a parody rendition of the popular song by Dua Lipa, “New Rules,” which was adapted to be called “New Intentions.” She sang about the woes and guilt that come after forgetting evening prayer.

Two local students and poets, Hannan Hassan and Ifrah Abshir performed as well, sharing their experiences growing up as Muslim girls and watching their community’s perseverance.

The last poet, Tyson Amir, is author of the book “Black Boy Poems” and highlighted the need for black Americans to continue their ancestors’ work as freedom fighters.

Audience members had plenty of chances to get on their feet and dance throughout the evening. The University of Washington Dabka Group performed a dabka, a traditional Arab dance, and later invited the audience on stage to learn the steps. A Somali dance group consisting of students from Seattle U and UW rounded out the evening by showcasing their talent, then started a dance party for all to join.

Ibrahim said that Rejoice provided the unique opportunity for Muslim folks to represent themselves. She said that often times people speak for Muslims, and was hopeful for this space for Muslim folks to share and celebrate their culture in a time where their identity has been so politicized.

“Unity in difference means we’re not all changing and becoming the same, but instead we’re uniting in our differences and celebrating in our differences,” she said. “There’s so [many] differences, not just within the Muslim community, but within the world, and I think that’s something to celebrate.

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