New York: Muslim student center opens at Rockland Community College

A room in a sunny corridor at Rockland Community College in New York is tiny in size but huge in meaning for the students who worked to transform it into a statement of diversity and acceptance.

The room holds the Center for Muslim Life, which was dedicated Thursday by students and college officials who said it is a welcome addition to the campus.

“It is open to students of all faiths and backgrounds,” said Sidra Ijaz, 19, of Spring Valley, who led the effort to form the center along with the new Muslim Student Association. “We want to educate and bring people together.”

The Center for Muslim Life, which is located near the college’s Christian Fellowship and Hillel chapter rooms, reflects the school’s mission to promote tolerance through education, said RCC President Cliff Wood.

“We need to live in peace with one another,” he said.

The Center for Muslim Life also reflects a general growth in Rockland’s Islamic population.

RCC does not track students by religion. But Azeem Farooki, a trustee of the Islamic Center of Rockland in Valley Cottage noted that 20 years ago the group had about 200 members and worshiped in rented space.

Now up to 2,000 people attend prayers at the center’s mosque

The organization is reaching out to the community to help foster good relations and counter negative stereotypes. Next week, 50 youngsters from Orangetown Jewish Center will visit the mosque, he said.

Ijaz said she hopes the Center for Muslim Life serves the same function at RCC.

“We want to address the misconceptions people have,” she said as she and several other young women— some wearing the hijab, others not, many dressed in green, an Islamic symbol of good luck— welcomed visitors.

The room was decorated with pictures of Mecca and Medina, and other symbols of Islam. Copies of the Koran in both English and Arabic were on shelves, along with copies of a speech made earlier this month by President Obama when he visited a mosque in Baltimore. The women handed visitors plates of kebab and cups of soft drinks.

Many visitors said they were not Muslims but are eager to learn about the religion.

Nathan Gross, 19, who grew up attending yeshiva in Monsey, said he had little interaction with Muslims until he entered college.

“It’s interesting to find out how other people live,” he said.

Ijaz said she hopes the Center for Muslim Life educates non-Muslims and serves as support for Muslim students.

“What good is a room without students and people to use it ?” she asked.

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