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Penn students had the opportunity to “Meet a Muslim” on Locust Walk as part of the Muslim Student Association’s "Islamic Discovery Series." | Courtesy of Irtiqa Fazili

On Tuesday, Penn students got the chance to “Meet a Muslim” in Houston Hall and on Locust Walk as part of the Muslim Student Association’s "Islamic Discovery Series."

Even in a country as religiously diverse as the United States, only 38 percent of the population knows a Muslim person, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study.

It is in the context of this and the ongoing negative portrayals of Islam and Muslims in the media that MSA hosts its annual, weeklong discovery series.

“I feel that there are a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to Muslims because it’s easy for the media to dehumanize them. And the narratives that exist around them are very extreme and discouraging,” said College and Engineering senior Habeeb Suara, who is the community relations chair in MSA. “This discovery series week is meant to emphasize similarities rather than differences.”

MSA Vice President and College senior Fahmida Sarmin echoed this sentiment.

“We’re normal students, and like everyone else we’re here to get an education. Through this event, we’re just showcasing something that’s a really big part of our lives — Islam,” Sarmin said.

A handful of MSA members manned the booths at "Meet a Muslim," distributing pins, flyers and candied dates and chatting to students who stopped by. The event had about 200 RSVPs on its Facebook page.

“Sometimes people are scared to ask us more questions about Islam, like why we wear the hijab. This space is a forum where people can ask us anything,” Sarmin said.

College and Wharton senior James An was one of the many students who stopped by the booth to chat and learn a bit more about the religion and culture.

"I decided to go to the event because I have a few good friends that are in MSA, and I wanted to show support for the community and learn more about them," An said. "I had a wonderful time because they were so welcoming, kind and open to meeting new people and just having a wonderful conversation. Even though I wasn't Muslim or 'religious,' I felt a part of the community, and I was just happy."

Students can look forward to more events in the series throughout the week, including an Islamic food lounge on Wednesday, a lecture led by Imam John Starling and a public sermon on College Green on Friday.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Habeeb Suara is a College and Engineering senior, when in fact he is a College senior. The DP regrets the error.

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