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Islamic fair unveils culture

By Megan Seery
The Independent Florida Alligator
February 3, 2004

She identifies herself as a Muslim, a Latina and a woman in that order.

For Cynthia Yanez, an English senior and member of Islam on Campus, religion is a part of her identity she would like outsiders to better understand.

Yanez was one of more than 100 students who participated in the "Islam Around the World" fair on the Reitz Union north lawn Monday, sponsored by Islam on Campus.

In addition to Islamic art and culture, Friends for Life of America co-sponsored a booth that tie-dyed bandannas for cancer victims.

The purpose of the event, which kicked off UF's Islam Awareness Month, was to bring education to the community and deconstruct stereotypes, Yanez said.

"When people are not aware of what the reality of Islam is, that is where the hate comes from," she said. "When they don't understand, they make their own assumptions."

Some misunderstandings of Islam, she said, stem from media sensationalism of Islamic culture, such as the word "jihad."

"'Jihad' means 'personal struggle,'" she said, adding the term changes depending on the person. "My jihad is not to drink."

The daughter of a Spanish mother and Cuban father, Yanez said her family is just one of many Hispanic families that converted to Islam.

"I see myself being Muslim as going back to my roots," she said, adding that Spain was a Muslim country for more than 700 years. "How much closer to my roots can I get?"

Sharon Smith is finding new roots. The religion sophomore became a Muslim eight weeks ago.

She said even though she grew up in the Pentecostal Church, her views are more aligned with those of Islam.

"It's a culmination of a journey of religious education and enlightenment," she said. "The more I learned, the more it made sense to me."

Although she converted for several reasons, Smith said she liked that the religion specifically forbids racism and sexism.

Americans tend to have three misconceptions, she said, about Muslims in the United States: They all are immigrants. They are involved with terrorism, and black Muslims are members of the Nation of Islam.

"This is a religion that fosters brotherhood and sisterhood," Smith said. "It's a religion of reason and logic."

Eboni Curry, a nutritional science sophomore, said she decided to stop by the fair just to try something different. Although she is not Muslim, she said she would be open to attending Islam on Campus events in the future.

"I come from a broad background," she said. "I like learning about other people and other cultures."

The Independent Florida Alligator link