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Group to promote religious, cultural understanding

April 10, 2008

A new student organization, Sisters and Brothers of Islam, will offer UW-River Falls students an outlet for sharing their faith and learning about the faith of others.

“The purpose of this organization is to create dialogue [and] share knowledge and understanding about Islam between students,” according to the constitution of Sisters and Brothers of Islam.

Sophomore Qurina Khan founded the group because of a perceived need for such a group in the community.

Khan, with her headscarf, got a lot of questions about Islam when working at the River Falls Econo Foods, she said.

Additionally, her non-Muslim friends encouraged her to start a group that would educate students around campus about her beliefs.

“They feel like there is a gap that needs to be filled,” Khan said.

The group is still in the setup process and has yet to have an official meeting.

Their “grand opening” will be in fall 2008, Khan said.

“I really want this to be kind of a big hit,” Khan said. “And I really want people of all backgrounds and religions to attend, because that’s what makes things interesting.”

Carolyn Brady, acting adviser for the group, said she encouraged Khan to follow through with her interest in starting the organization.

The increasing population of Muslim students at UWRF and a growing curiosity among students of other beliefs make such an organization a welcome addition to the campus community, Brady said.

Brady also serves as the advisor for the Asian American Student Association (AASA), a group she credits for inspiring students to create other cultural awareness groups. Muslim students and East Indian students attended meetings of the AASA before founding their own groups—Sisters and Brothers of Islam and the Desi Student Organization, respectively.

“That kind of got the momentum going,” Brady said.

AASA meetings showed the students, though they didn’t completely identify with everyone attending, that it was possible to get a lot of students involved in events promoting cultural awareness and celebration, Brady said.

Khan’s plans for next semester include a week that will highlight a different aspect of Islam each day.

“I want to call it Islamic week,” Khan said.

Khan said she would also like for Sisters and Brothers of Islam to collaborate with the Desi Student Organization and put on an Iftar dinner.

Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, the ninth month of their calendar. Members of Muslim communities break their fast together each evening at a meal known as Iftar, according to Tanya Gulevich’s book Understanding Islam and Muslim Traditions.

Freshman accounting major Kerry Carter, who identifies herself as a Christian, said that she might attend one of the group’s meetings in the upcoming semester.

“I think it’d be interesting to learn about their culture and everything,” Carter said.

The group has not named a permanent adviser yet, though Brady said she will continue to serve as the adviser for as long as the group needs her.

“I would do anything I could to help the organization,” Brady said.

Brady’s decision to advise another student group arose from a mix of necessity and personal interest in the group.

Though the students were capable of running their group, the organization needed to have an adviser to be formally recognized, Brady said.

Additionally, Brady’s father emigrated from North Africa to the U.S. with his family. Like Brady’s father, some of the students in Sisters and Brothers of Islam are immigrants.

Brady said that the fact that these students are in basically the same position her father was in at college makes her feel especially motivated to help them out.

It is Brady’s hope, however, that more faculty members will take an interest in Sisters and Brothers of Islam and seek the role of adviser as the group becomes more visible in the upcoming semester, she said.

Sisters and Brothers of Islam members active in the planning process may have one meeting before the end of spring semester to make sure all plans for fall are settled.