Can you offer a more comprehensive definition of Islam?
The word "Islam" is derived from the tripartite Arabic root s-l-m, which encompasses the multifarious connotations of tranquility, safety, and surrender. In light of this linguistic framework, the "Muslim" can be described as one who strives to attain both internal and external peace through devotional conformity to the ever-perfect, -just, and -merciful will of God or Allah in Arabic. At the heart of Islamic theology lies the belief that Divinity is absolutely unitary and without partner in faith or worship. Moreover, Muslims revere the 7th century Arabian prophet Muhammad as the final messenger of God to humanity in a time-honored chain of Divinely inspired messengers including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.
What is your role within your faith? What kind of guidance can you offer students?
My family and I have been actively involved in the Muslim communities of the greater Springfield and Amherst areas for the last 18 years. I have two sons and two daughters who have all grown up with a strong sense of faith. I have tried to nurture in my children a curiosity about the meaning of life from a spiritual standpoint.
When my children were young, I volunteered as a Sunday School teacher and administrator. 16 years ago, when my family moved to Amherst from Springfield, my husband and I worked together with a group of families and started a Sunday school in our home with about ten families attending. We also combined efforts to establish the first mosque in Amherst, Hampshire Mosque.
Through the years, I have participated in interfaith activities and organized community building events such as holiday gatherings, fairs, and picnics. In 2001, my husband and I worked closely with graduate and undergraduate students at UMass to plan an outreach event that brought together 500 community members to learn about Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.
I understand the challenges and opportunities of living and practicing one's faith as a religious minority in America. I am also aware of the particular struggles that Muslim students face in dealing with negative perceptions of their faith in the media. In this respect, I hope to be a source of support and advice to Muslim students.
How long have you been involved with the Smith College Community? How has the College's spirituality changed over time?
I am a Smith alumna, class of 1983, and have been working at the College as an administrator since 2005. I also became the Advisor to Al-Iman in 2012. I believe that, in recent years, the spiritual atmosphere of the College has become more inclusive of all faiths. Prayers at public forums and college-wide events have universal appeal, which helps foster a welcoming environment for the Smith community. In my experience, the College strives to support students' religious practices and needs. For example, the Kosher-Halal dining facilities in Cutter-Ziskind House help Muslim and Jewish students who choose to comply with their religious dietary laws. In addition, the non-denominational prayer room in Helen Hills Chapel provides a relaxing environment in which students of all faith backgrounds can pray and reflect, in between classes.
What role do you think spirituality plays on campus?
In my view, Smith is a welcoming place for students of various spiritual backgrounds. With a multitude of spiritual and religious organizations on camps, students can find solace as well as joy in belonging to a particular spiritual community. They also have opportunities to explore other faiths and participate in interfaith dialogue, activities that, I believe, are critical in building bridges of understanding.
I think spirituality also serves as a medium with which to bring students together at times of crisis, such as in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Vigils organized by students and the Center of Spiritual and Religious Life provide a safe, public forum in which community members can express their feelings, support one another, and make sense of what is happening around them through spiritual contemplation.