The Islamic Center of Irving (ICI) and the University of Dallas Social Justice Initiative are collaborating to close the gap between the Catholic university and the Islamic place of worship.
The ICI is located less than 15 minutes from UD and has been a topic of discussion in the past several months due to recent armed protests outside the center.
UD Social Justice intern Carmen Tate said ICI approached her about the possibility of inter-institutional dialogue.
“There are three avenues we want to pursue [this semester],” Tate said. “First, [the ICI] would like to have a ‘Facts and Myths’ session for people to come with their questions. [Second,] we would like to have a session detailing the relationship between Islam and Jesus. Lastly, they would like to have a talk directly related to Islam’s teaching on social justice, like on issues of poverty, domestic violence or even terrorism. We want people to know that both the university and the Islamic Center can work together with a common goal.”
Delhi Ekambo, ICI outreach coordinator, echoed Tate’s statement.
“The aim is to build a relationship and build bridges with UD and create a dialogue between the two faith communities and [foster] a better understanding of Islam,” Ekambo said. “We felt that it is important especially during these times for the faith communities of Irving to build relations and a better understanding of Islam. We would like to bring people from both faith committees together to get to know one another as well.”
Tate also said that opportunities for joint-service activities related to social justice could potentially arise in the future with both the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and the ICI.
The collaboration is symbiotic, MSA President Hina Ahmed said.
“They are trying to help us increase our diversity, get the word out that we have an MSA, that is also the Multi-Cultural Student Association,” Ahmed said. “It shows that UD is a great school. [Muslims] don’t have to be scared to apply to Catholic school.”
There is uncertainty regarding joint events in the fall 2016 semester, since UD’s social justice initiative is becoming a student-led committee, rather than an internship, but Ahmed made it clear that there is a broad vision for UD’s relationship with the ICI.
“I hope that in the future someone from the mosques close to UD or the ICI could come and teach religion classes or Arabic classes,” Ahmed said.
Tate also reflected on the lack of Middle Eastern cultural studies at UD, saying that presently only a Medieval Islamic Civilization course is taught, but even that has its shortfalls.
“I wish it was more of a theology class,” Tate said. “Right now it is only really a history class. I wish there were more [classes]. Every once in a while Islam will pop up in politics courses or economics courses.”
Tate went on to say that perhaps in the future the ICI could hold events educating students on Muslim theology, but a lot depends on UD students.
“At an institution with an 80 percent Catholic demographic and a Muslim Student Association of one or two Muslims, if this partnership were to develop, the university would have to admit more Muslims, which isn’t something our university puts at the top of their priority list in order to maintain our Catholic identity,” Tate said.
Ahmed described being Muslim at a school with little diversity in a word: “Interesting.”
“You do get looks and questions all the time but I don’t get offended at all,” Ahmed said. “There are some people who genuinely want to know [about it], but there are some people who ask questions just to be rude. Some people are afraid to come up and they are scared, because I am the only Hijabi undergraduate student.”
The Social Justice Initiative also encourages students to volunteer with the Refugee Services of Texas, whether their involvement be an airport pickup or an apartment unpacking for refugees who come from all over the world, including Cuba, Algeria, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“These are the types of events that students can work together with the Islamic Center,” Tate said. “[I envision] an event where students are bussed to an apartment complex to assist with an apartment unpacking or ESL classes.”
Like everything else, however, these events require student initiative.
“We can be a flaky campus,” Tate said. “It takes a lot to get people to commit to anything. I understand it’s a rigorous school, but if we weren’t as flaky, it would be beautiful.”
As for UD students, Ahmed said she wishes students knew two things.
“[Firstly,] what you hear on the media is not us,” Ahmed said. “It’s been twisted, but members of ISIS are not Muslims, at all. [Secondly,] women are not oppressed. That’s not a thing. [From] the time Islam was founded, women were given more rights than any other world religion.”
For those who would like to learn more about Islam, students are welcome to visit the ICI.
The doors are open to all, regardless of faith background.
There are weekly tours on Sundays from 2:30 – 3:30 for the public.