Religious variety graces campus

Tanya Marsh

Tanya Marsh

SDSU is a religiously diverse campus. Exactly how diverse, however, is anyone’s guess.

Ann Marie Bahr, professor of religion and philosophy, said many faiths don’t have their own campus organization.

“There are a whole set of faiths represented that are not big enough [for an organization on campus],” she said.

Bahr does have an idea of the various faiths that are present on campus. “There is of course the Islamic organization,” she said, adding that this is the largest religious group on campus next to Christian.

Christian organizations on campus vary from the very conservative to the mainstream, Bahr said, although there is no longer an extremely liberal branch of Christianity represented.

People of other faiths that can be found at SDSU include Jewish, American-Indian faith groups, Hindus, Coptic Christians and Roman Catholics, just to name a few.

Religion is very important for a number of reasons, Bahr said. “I think for people in the United States, it is a sense of personal identity and identity with God.”

For people from overseas, she said, it’s more. “It’s a connection to ethnic group or nation, to religious heritage,” she said. “It’s how they see themselves. Many times, it’s the faith that has shaped the nation.”

For this reason, many foreign students and staff find their religion to be extremely important to them.

Ausama Yousif, a Ph.D. candidate and a teaching assistant on campus, is a Muslim. His religion is an important, integral part of his life.

“We believe that worship is not only prayer and fasting, worship is work, worship is being just, worship is fairness in trade, … worship is your daily life, if God is the basis for your actions,” Yousif said.

The Muslim faith requires much from its followers, including prayer five times a day.

“We pray five times a day: one before sunrise, one around noon, one in the afternoon, one right after sunset and one at night, when there is no trace of sunlight,” Yousif said.

Appropriate behavior is also expected during the holy month of Ramadan, which is going on now. Aside from abstaining from food and water from sunrise to sunset, Muslims are also to refrain from lying and upsetting others during this time.

“Water and food are the least of the challenges of Ramadan, let’s put it that way,” Yousif said.

Yousif also spoke of the five pillars of the Islamic religion and his God Allah ? the only word in Arabic that cannot be made plural and does not carry gender.

He explained some of the basic teachings of the faith.

“Islam is not a messages of the prophet Mohammed only; he came to remind us of our father Abraham. Abraham is the father of all prophets, and he was the first Muslim.”

Yousif said Mohammed had said Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are all his brothers; they are all sons for one father, with different mothers. Yousif said this shows the unity between the faiths of Christian and Islamic, although many do not live out this unity.

However, discrimination both on campus and in Brookings has been low, both Bahr and Yousif agreed.

“When I moved here 13 years ago, people were much more open in expressing their dislike,” Bahr said. “This city has moved further forward tolerance than it was 13 years ago.”

She continued, “I’m not aware of any hate crimes involving a lack of tolerance [as there have been on other campuses]. We should be proud of ourselves.”

There is still room for improvement, Bahr encouraged. “Foreign students need to be welcomed,” she said, adding that foreign students that are Christian are often welcomed differently than those that are not Christian.

“I think we need to make an effort to reach out to people,” she said.

Yousif is also pleased with the tolerance he finds at SDSU. “Ninety-nine percent of the people are good,” he said. “There is one student in my class and one of my friends [that are not tolerant]. I have 100 students, and this is one student.”

Because of these impressive numbers, Yousif would rather not discuss the few bad incidents that he has experienced. “For 99 percent of the people to be good to me is worth mentioning more than the one percent that don’t.

It’s a beautiful society when we can accomplish that.”

Yousif feels that many less-positive incidents are caused by misconceptions, especially since Sept. 11. “It’s the stereotypes,” he said. “In the US, I’ve noticed that you accumulate certain standpoints on how you look onto Islam.”

He said many people feel that women wearing the traditional Islamic head cover are looked upon as oppressed, when this is not the case.

Another stereotype Yousif sees is linking resistance movements to terrorism. “Many people all they hear is the media, and I think a legitimate fight for your land and your rights, like here against the British, ?it’s not a bad thing.”

Still, Yousif said, “Many of the Christian people around here are just wonderful.”

Relating to Sept. 11, he said, “It doesn’t matter what you call yourself, you’re human. And when I saw that building fall down, I cried.” Yousif said his Mormon neighbor was also crying and came over to tell Yousif “If I can help you in any way, let me know.”

Muslims are not the only ones to experience prejudice on campus. Lately, members of the Falun Gong religion have also come under fire.

Bahr explained, “The difficulty there is the Chinese government has an official stance on Falun Gong. Our own government does not see things that way, [and gives refuge to those that are religiously persecuted]. So for the Chinese students here, it kind of catches them in the middle.”

Bahr said the discrimination toward Falun Gong members is most likely between Chinese students themselves and has less to do with intolerant Americans.