Islamic college students in Columbia rely on tight-knit community

Monday, August 13, 2012 | 12:55 p.m. CDT; updated 4:38 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 13, 2012

COLUMBIA — Located on Fifth Street, two golden domes reflect light from the setting sun. Every Friday evening, Muslim families gather here to join in prayer and community.  


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The Islamic Center of Central Missouri in Columbia is a place of worship for many first and second generation immigrant families. The younger generations that attend the mosque are immersed in Columbia’s culture, but religion remains a high priority in their lives. MU students Rafa Nizam, 20, and Hiba Syed, 19, rely on the tight-knit Islamic community to help balance their religious values with their lifestyle as college students.

“It’s a guiding thread, when it comes to values, morals, interacting with people and etiquette,” Nizam said.

He said Islam is a "litmus test" for all the decisions he makes in life. The organizations he is involved with reflect his religious values. Nizam is one of the founding coordinators of the Tiger Pantry, an organization devoted to feeding homeless and hungry students in Columbia. Members of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri preach the importance of volunteering and charitable activities.

Syed, also an MU student, majors in biology and psychology. She is involved with the Muslim Student Organization on campus and said that Islam is the guiding force for everything she practices in life.

“It’s something that I try to keep in mind at all times," Syed said. "It helps me make decisions and it shapes the way I treat other people, the way I carry myself, and the way I dress, obviously.”

While taking summer classes, Syed makes time to hang out with friends and also perform religious obligations.

“Praying five times a day, my schedule works around that to make sure I get that done,” she said. “If you follow your religion and do what you’re supposed to do, everything else in life will fall into place.”

In addition to her daily prayers, she wears a hijab, a veil that covers her hair. She said people respect her for wearing a hijab because it demonstrates her strong values.

“People are generally interested,” Syed said. “If somebody comes up to me and asks me, ‘Why do you wear that scarf?’ it’s fun to explain and it’s fun to match them and wear nice shiny, colorful ones.”

Both Syed and Nizam are able to balance their religious values with their college lifestyle because of the strong bonds they share within the local Islamic community.

“You’ll be a role model for somebody and somebody will be a role model for you,” Nizam said. “That’s what I’ve learned from having a tight-knit community like Columbia.” 

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