Wearing an accentual “Men Wear Pink” American Cancer Society necktie, Rashed Fakhruddin, director of outreach and community partnerships at the Islamic Center of Nashville was invited to Belmont on Wednesday by Student Government Association and University Ministries to speak about Islam.
“We started the conversations back in the spring, and we just felt like we wanted to bring someone in who could bring people together and just talk about how our neighborhoods and communities are so important and interconnected,” said Derian Hamblin, SGA adviser and assistant director of student engagement.
Wednesday’s WELL Core event, “Meet your Muslim Neighbor,” has been in the works since the spring, when a Christian speaker made offensive comments about Islam. That problematic WELL Core event was sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Faith and Academics Committee, and caused widespread campus discussion of inclusion, tolerance and understanding of non-Christian faiths, specifically Islam.
This is one of the first times a Muslim speaker has been invited by these joint entities to speak solely about Islam, without being involved in a panel discussion, said University Minister Heather Daugherty.
In his 40-minute presentation sprinkled with humor and anecdotes, Fakhruddin highlighted the major beliefs and misconceptions of Islam for the audience.
“God says serve God and associate none with him. Show kindness to your parents and your kinsfolk and to the orphans, to the needy, to the near and distant neighbors, to the companions by your side,” Fakhruddin said. “Belmont University is our neighbor, and it’s not just a distant – it's a near neighbor. It’s our duty to treat everyone with this kindness.”
This event is only the beginning of SGA’s plans to foster more connection and understanding between different religious groups on Belmont’s campus.
Chief Officer of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for SGA Sadaf Folad advocated with others for Wednesday’s event and is helping organize an interfaith panel for the spring in collaboration with Belmont Jewish Student Association, Muslim Student Association and Belmont University Catholic.
“We want to bring religious leaders from those religious groups and kind of have them sit and talk about intersectionality and just God,” Folad said.
As Belmont’s student demographics grow increasingly diverse, the need for more conversations about diversity has become more apparent and urgent to cultivate a healthier, more connected campus.
“It’s important just for students to hear diverse voices on campus – I mean, we are a Christian school, and it’s just important for the student body to hear other voices within the community. Especially since Belmont has a growing Muslim population,” said SGA President Carter Barnett.
The question remains whether students are interested enough in conversations to prioritize attendance at events like these.
The event was intended primarily for non-Muslim students, Folad said. But she wasn’t surprised that the room wasn’t even half full.
“It makes sense that as a PWI, there’s a lot of hesitation to go to an event like this,” Folad said. “So, I am not surprised, but I’m hopeful that we will get some regulars coming to events like this.”
An oversaturated convo hour schedule may have detracted from attendance. The 10 a.m. hour on Wednesday featured at least 24 events across campus, including another University Ministries-sponsored event, “Krispy Kreme and Jesus,” and the Graduate and Professional School Fair.
“I think it was a decent turnout. It could have been more, but I think with just everything going on around campus – there’s a billion things happening,” Barnett said. “It wasn’t horrible, but it could have been better.”
But the students who attended the event heard Fakhruddin’s thorough presentation of an introduction to Islam, achieving the goal set by the event’s co-sponsors of creating a “greater sense of connection between our communities and foster greater understanding of our neighbors who practice Islam,” as stated in the event description on BruinLink.
“We hope to do some more events and collaborations with University Ministries and other campus offices, too – just have more conversations like this to bring people together,” Hamblin said.
As Belmont entities continue to create more opportunities for conversation and understanding between different groups on campus and in Nashville, the next step is for more students to take advantage of those events.
“It’s so important to check our biases, and throw them out the door – and how do you really check them? Get to know people who are different than you,” Fakhruddin said.
This article was written by Tessa Pendleton