The Islamic Society of Boston University hosted a public prayer Wednesday evening at Marsh Plaza, where 16 ISBU members prayed as pedestrians walked down Commonwealth Avenue.
Executed at approximately 7:15 p.m., the public prayer was one of the many programs ISBU is holding for Islam Awareness Month. The prayer also aimed to support the Gender Advocacy and Progress Week and to raise awareness of diversity on campus, ISBU President Taiba Zahir said.
“Something most people don’t know much about is that Islam is a very empowering religion for women,” Zahir, a junior in the College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said following the prayer. “There are many stereotypes about that, and this is the perfect opportunity to break those stereotypes.”
A male student led the prayer that comprised of six male and 10 female students. The male students prayed in a straight line on a stretched rug directly behind the imam, the leader of the prayer, while the female students, also in a straight line and on a stretched rug, prayed behind them, forming a third line.
Zainab Kazmi, ISBU sisters’ social chair, said ISBU hosts the public prayer annually at Marsh Plaza, a central spot on campus, because the organization strives to break Muslim stereotypes by increasing exposure.
“If you see a bunch of people in weird positions, you’d be intrigued because you don’t really see that in your daily life,” Kazmi, a senior in Sargent, said referring to the prayer’s movements. “The purpose of a public prayer is just to spark that interest in people.”
Nadea Zahra, ISBU sisters’ religious chair, also participated in the prayer. Zahra explained that in light of the current presidential election and recent depictions of Muslims in the media, ISBU members feel compelled to demonstrate their faith publicly in order to provide the BU community with a more realistic example of what it means to be Muslim.
“We think that it’s our duty as Muslims to spread the real message behind Islam,” Zahra, a senior in the Questrom School of Business, said after the prayer. “We want people to be familiar with our religion, and we want them to get to know Muslims from Muslims, not from media.”
One of ISBU’s main goals was to inform the BU community about Islam as a means to combat Islamophobia, Zahra added.
Several students who participated in the prayer said they aim to publicly display their faith.
Needa Shaikh, a freshman in the College of Engineering, said she had attended many ISBU activities in the past, and the public prayer was significant to her because it let people see how Muslims worship. She added that she was grateful for the opportunity to publically express pride in her religion.
“It’s important, especially with the current presidential election, to show people what the real Islam is,” Shaikh said. “You shouldn’t be afraid to practice your religion freely and openly.”
Sabrina Hassan, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said Wednesday night was the first time she attended a public prayer.
“I was interested to see how people would react, and I felt like most people just walked by,” Hassan said. “But I loved hearing the people who did have verbal reactions. I could hear some whispered voices, but people had respectful reactions as opposed to being totally shocked.”
Hassan decided to take part in the prayer because the idea of praying outdoors appealed to her, but also because it is important to let the BU community know that there are Muslims on our campus, she explained.
“We’re saying that we’re comfortable with our identity as Muslims and encouraging others to embrace their identities as well,” Hassan said.
Maryan Sharif, a junior in Sargent, said she has been involved with ISBU since her freshman year and has attended ISBU public prayers twice in past years.
“The public prayers have taught me to not be afraid of who I am, to be accepting of others and to be proud of my faith,” Sharif said.
Sharif also commented on the political importance of the public prayer, saying, “With the rising Islamophobia and with Islam being a hot topic this political season, I think it’s very important to have a public demonstration like this.”
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