Muslim Student Association looks to bring the poetry of Islam to ASU

From stained glass windows in church sanctuaries to sculpted shrines in temples, art has played a major role in almost all practiced religions, and one club at ASU is looking to share the artistic side of their often misunderstood faith. 

On Monday, Feb. 7, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at ASU will be hosting "The Art of Worship: Spoken Word with Boonaa" in the 220 Turquoise room of the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus. This event will showcase the talent of critically acclaimed poet, activist and writer Boonaa Mohammed. The Canadian-born spoken word poet is well known in the Muslim community and beyond.

Senior and health sciences pre-professional major and MSA president, Sarah Syed said Mohammed is an inspiration to many young Muslim-Americans, especially Muslim men and Muslims of color.

"He is one of the icons in creating American-Muslim culture and modern Muslim culture," Syed said. "We are extremely lucky to be able to book him."

Syed said Mohammed's poetry tells stories of love, racism, social justice and growing up. She said Mohammed often talks about the struggles young Muslims go through and uses his poetry to transform hardships into something positive.

"The topics he talks about are relevant (topics) that all of us as human beings find connection to," Syed said.

Syed said she hopes the poetry night will inform and educate students on the art of Islam. Poetry, according to Syed, has always had a huge emphasis in the religion. She said language is the highest form of art, citing calligraphy as playing an important role as well. 

"The better your language, the more educated and intellectual you are." she said. "One way you can show that is by the expression of your poetry."

Syed said younger generations of English speaking Muslims often miss out on this extraordinary connection, and that Boonaa Mohammed is paving the way for a new wave and era.

Many students may be curious as to why MSA is hosting this event in correspondence with Black History Month as the two demographics are not often linked. Syed said that often those of African descent are overlooked in the conversation about Islam. With the featured poet being of African descent, Syed said Monday's event aims to reconcile some of that neglect, even if only for one night.

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“The American Muslim community is largely black and not enough attention is paid to that,” she said. "I’m tired of the conversation about Muslims in America being only about the Arab distinction."

Syed said that this kind of treatment does a disservice to past Muslims of African descent who paved the way for the future of the Islamic faith today. Syed said African-Americans laid the foundation for Islam in America, citing Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X among the religion's many icons and figures. 

MSA aims to be a place of friendship for Muslims and non-Muslims alike by breaking down boundaries and educating students on the often misunderstood faith. 

“We have so many wonderful things to offer to America,” Syed said

Joanna Alshalabi, speech and hearing sciences sophomore and MSA member, said poetry has huge value within the Islamic culture.

"I think it has to do with the Arabic language," Joanna Alshalabi said. "It's such a beautiful language that with certain words you can’t even find the same word in English." 

In addition to poetry nights, MSA hosts educational and recreational events throughout the year including Islam Awareness Week, March 28 to April 1. 

As for its hopes for the future, the MSA plans to continue collaborating with other faith-based and non faith-based clubs. The organization also hopes to showcase the art within American Muslim culture. 

Nutrition dietetics sophomore Diana Alshalabi said the club allows people who are uninformed about the religion to gain knowledge and understanding.

"Because we attend events, students see how we interact and can get an insight on who Muslims are," She said. "It helps them not to judge us based on how the media presents us." 

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @noelledl.

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