In a post-9/11 age, the Islamic world is under scrutiny.
"Basically, we are just trying to spread awareness," said Noor Alshibli, president of the MSA and a junior biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology major. "A lot of people have questions and don't know where to go to get them answered, and we are trying to promote the universality of the principles that we have in Islam, like being kind to your neighbors and being hungry, as well."
Islam Awareness Week 2013 will include UT's annual Fast-a-thon, taking place on Thursday, Nov. 14. Although the Fast-a-thon is a tradition held on numerous college campuses, the event's origins stem from UT grounds 13 years ago. In 2001, just after the Sept. 11 attacks, UT held its first fasting event. In 2006, other schools followed suit.
This year marks the first time the Fast-a-thon will be combined with Islam Awareness Week.
"We decided to put them together to attract more people," said Hawa Henderson, Treasurer of MSA and junior majoring in microbiology. "Last year we didn't have as many people for the Fast-a-thon, but we did have a lot of people for Islam Awareness Week. So, we are thinking that by attracting people to Islam Awareness Week, they can also learn about Fast-a-thon."
Participants pledge to fast for a day, beginning at 5:58 a.m. and concluding at 5:30 p.m. For every student pledge, a local company will donate one dollar to Love Kitchen, a soup kitchen catering to community members in Knoxville.
This year's goal is 1,000 students for $1,000.
"Local businesses are willing to donate money to the cause just for knowing that students our age and people are more aware and willing to create awareness about the cause," Alshibli said.
Students in MSA were staked on Pedestrian Walkway last week taking pledges, and more than 780 people have already committed to participating in the Fast-a-thon.
At the conclusion of the fast, MSA will host a free dinner in the UC Ballroom complemented by speakers present to discuss fasting during Ramadan and the value of the Fast-a-thon.
"It's just an open, social event for people to come and enjoy a home cooked meal with us," Alshibli said. "We have local families cooking all sorts of food."
Fast-a-thon was started in keeping with Ramadan, the holy month in Islamic faith, during which 30 days of fasting cultivate spiritual purity and enlightenment. Although Muslims fast from all foods and water during Ramadan, the MSA simply encourages students to fast in whatever manner suits them.
"We just encourage the idea that people, if they can't fast from water, skip lunch if they can," Alshibli said. "If not, maybe give up something like coffee or just something to get the idea of being hungry and get the idea that some people don't necessarily have three meals a day guaranteed for them. We are trying to help people realize that and take an active participation in changing that in our community."
While the university funds the annual Fast-a-thon, other activities and events included in Islam Awareness Weak depend upon donations from what Alshibli describes as a very supportive community.
All week long from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., a "Learn About Islam" tent on Pedestrian Walkway is providing hot chocolate, henna tattoos and Arabic name translations.
In addition, each night a panel will be held in the UC exploring different themes in Islam. On Friday night, there will be a prayer observance at the Anoor Mosque on 13th Street.
Alshibli said she hopes Islam Awareness Week and the Fast-a-thon will shed light on an often misunderstood culture.
"We want to have a way for people to get more comfortable with us," Alshibli said. "Some people, when they hear the word Islam or Muslim or Muhammad, they might feel a little bit scared and not necessarily know what to expect. So, we are trying to promote the idea that we are students just like you. We like to do the same things, we like to drink coffee and play video games, doing all the same kinds of things you do. We just have a different faith.
"We are all part of UT, and part of the Big Orange family."