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Lecture on Muhammad Kicks Off Islamic Awareness Month

By Bharath Venkatesh, Contributing Writer

In celebration of its annual Islamic Awareness Month, the Harvard Islamic Society kicked off a series of events this week in order to bring attention to Islamic issues and the Muslim community at Harvard.

“We want to present this sense that Islamic values are very much a part of American life,” said Hassaan Shahawy ’16, who is HIS’s Director of Islamic Learning. “We have events that show that it’s not as dual as we think. It’s not Islam versus the West, Islam versus science. The misperception is that the two are at odds with each other.”

The festivities began Monday night with a talk entitled “What Muhammad Stood for,” presented by Lesley Hazleton, author of The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad and veteran TED speaker. Hazleton spoke about Muhammad’s radical advocacy of social justice and the factors that led to Muhammad’s role as a prophet.

Shahawy described Hazleton as “an agnostic scholar and journalist” who offers a unique perspective on the Middle East.

“We wanted to give a perspective that’s from a very creative source, a very modern person writing about these issues,” he said. “We could have invited a traditional Islamic scholar, but we wanted to present it in a format that Harvard students could receive in a way that’s understandable to them.”

Like other upcoming events, which include a study break, a poetry night, and other talks on Islam, Monday’s talk was aimed at reaching out to both Muslim students and students of non-Islamic backgrounds.

“The more common questions people have about Islam or religion in general, like science and religious fundamentalism, those are the issues that we are covering in our next events,” said HIS Director of External Relations Omar A. Khoshafa ’16.

Shahawy stressed that one of the main goals of the Islamic Awareness Month events is to contextualize the confluence of Islamic and American culture.

“People always see Islam as a foreign phenomenon, but I find a lot of motivation for my American ideals and beliefs from the theology and workings of Islam,” Shahawy said. “I’m pro-evolution, pro-Big Bang, etc., because of my rooting in both American ideals and Islamic philosophy.”

The series of events will conclude with an elaborate Spring Dinner and a keynote address delivered by Comparative Religion Professor Diana L. Eck, who is also Director of the Pluralism Project.

“In us choosing her, I think the message we want to end with is that there’s a lot more in common than you think,” said Khoshafa. “There are things we can contribute, and we’d love to continue the dialogue between faith and non-faith organizations beyond these three weeks.”

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