Expanding the Definition of Jihad

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Panelists Ashley Divine, Thooba Samimi, Omid Jamdar and Kazi Rahman presented their experiences as Muslims in college. Their experiences ranged from having trouble finding spaces to pray on campus to finding a community of Muslims at UCSC. Photo by Jasper Lyons.
Panelists Ashley Divine, Thooba Samimi, Omid Jamdar and Kazi Rahman presented their experiences as Muslims in college. Their experiences ranged from having trouble finding spaces to pray on campus to finding a community of Muslims at UCSC. Photo by Jasper Lyons.

The ethnic resource centers’ program specialist for race, ethnicity, culture and class Karim Ahmath led a presentation called “Redefining Jihad: Muslim Experiences in Higher Education,” hosted by the Muslim Student Association (MSA) on Feb. 18. During the presentation, Ahmath discussed the interpretations of jihad — a term referring to a religious duty of Muslims — and where those meanings originated while also touching on how racial profiling and Islamophobia contribute to the current political climate.

“The definition of jihad has been diminished to a very limited understanding of the term,” Ahmath said. “Jihad is a positive connotation for many Muslims and has nothing to do with the harming of others, damage of property, violence toward anybody or any living or non-living thing.”

There are about 150 Muslim students at UC Santa Cruz and about 40 who participate in MSA, Ahmath said. The student panelists included Ashley Divine, Thooba Samimi, Omid Jamdar and Kazi Rahman, who held an informative discussion on their experiences with their faith. The panelists explained how being in MSA allowed them to grow closer to their faith and lifestyle. Each panelist said MSA is a comforting place for them to connect and relate.

“That type of community is essential in any college student’s life,” Samimi said.

Divine was raised Christian, but after research and her willingness to learn about Islam she converted along with MSA’s support.

“It has been a great, supportive system throughout the conversion process,” Divine said

MSA works to improve campus climate for Muslims, citing the lack of space for prayer and the limited access to halal foods — the permissible foods under Islamic law — as areas to improve. Muslims pray five times a day, and having a place of prayer located on campus would allow them to accommodate their schedules more easily. Additionally, MSA is collaborating with Santa Cruz Hillel and the Jewish Student Union to implement kosher and halal options in the dining hall.

“It’s a struggle to pay for a meal plan that does not fit my dietary needs,” said Jamdar, one of the panelists from MSA.

The presentation provided attendees with more information about the religion and its customs. Ahmath, the program specialist for the ethnic resource centers, said it’s important for students to inform themselves and become allies.

“It is important to see Muslims in a very human way, to see them as individuals, and as groups, who are practicing a very diverse, complex and old religion,” Ahmath said. “It’s one of the biggest religions in the world and because of its [complexity] there is much to learn in terms of how we can treat Muslims and be advocates to help them get the services they need on campus.”