Learning how to live amidst diversity of culture and ethnicity

By Wafa Awla

After news regarding 9/11 and Paris attack recently exploded all over the world, Islam becomes controversial labeled as a religion of terror and violence. This is the result from the sentiment and feeling of prejudice that occurred especially in western countries. This is the moment Muslims need to prove to the world about peace and feeling of brotherhood that has been stressed by Prophet Muhammad many years ago.

Back to the reality when we faced a situation a man has been scolded just because he asked for tissue shows that prejudice also exists among the Muslims. It is a sad thing when we cannot understand enough the differences and embraced a sense of brotherhood in this university.

As reported by The Guardian, statistics by UNESCO show that Malaysia is among 20 countries which received a lot of international students, as many as 63,625. It can be seen clearly enough the diversity of culture and ethnicity of students in this university (IIUM). However, there is a gap between international and local students. Failure to mix around between international and local students may lead people towards stereotype and feeling ethnocentric. Thus, the function of the university as a centre of learning which has an important mission to unite the ummah, would be affected.

“One day, I was standing in a long queue waiting for an officer to attend to me. The officer would be super nice with the Malay girl and when it came to International students, he treated us differently and would not tolerate questions,” said Revda Selver Iseric from Bosnia. She told us her story of living amidst diversity of culture and ethnicity in IIUM.

“I have my mahallah mates. They prefer to smile and the only thing they did is to give salam and reply back the salam. They don’t seem like wanting to have a long conversation with us or to get to know us more. When I brought stuffs and offered to them, they refused to accept. So I think, maybe we should stop trying,” said Revda who is a first year psychology student.

Trying to delve deeper into the roots of this problem, Ahmed Wafi Abdul Rashid believed that students do not observe the universal ethics in communication.

“There’s very high language barrier that separates local and international community. We should talk in a language that everybody understands. Otherwise, another party will feel offended,” said Wafi, a communication student specialising in journalism from Malaysia.

Representing the Student Representative Council, Nasra Musa cited numerous reasons resulting in gaps between local and international students.

“The main cause is language barrier. Communication is very important in dealing with people. Most local students tend to speak Bahasa Melayu almost all the time, so how will they then communicate with international students who barely understand anything other than apa khabar (how are you).”

Agreed with language barrier that has caused the gap between students in IIUM, Mohammad Fikri Mohammad Nawawi responded: “Most programmes in IIUM are conducted in Bahasa Melayu. International students feel disappointed when programmes were conducted in Malay and they cannot benefit from us.”

 Solving the problem

“Everyone has to participate by talking to each other and opening up our mind. Understanding the culture can strengthen our relationship with others. We also need to understand the common ethics and common rules in communication,” Wafi added.

Nasra also suggested a few things that can be done by students of IIUM.

“Break the stereotyping idea both between international and local students. It is not fair to generalise all people are in the same category. I believe we can merge with each other by realising that all of us complement each other. Honestly, it is important to understand other culture which sometimes are not suitable with another culture. All students should accept the differences and should not rely on others to understand us, but instead try first to understand others. Let’s learn from each other for some circumstances we could not see how to solve them but they did.”

“We are all Muslims and integration is number one. This is what happened to our prophet when he moved to Madinah to integrate relationship between Muhajirin and Ansar. I think the same concept should be applied here. An Islamic university should not exist only in name but also by action. Leave any label to any group, stop judging people and let’s give each other a chance,” Revda said before concluding the interview.

The differences among us are the uniqueness that we should celebrate and appreciate as Allah mentioned in Surah Al Hujurat, ayah 13:

“O mankind! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female and We made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, (the) most noble of you near Allah (is the) most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah (is) All-Knower, All-Aware.”

The time has come for us to plant the seeds of love in our garden of knowledge and virtue. Let the seeds yield the trees and flowers of brotherhood that blossom all the time.***

Photo credited to Ibrahem Mohamad

Wafa Awla

Head of features news, IIUM Today. And I love rainy days.

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