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Local organization holds Coffee, Cake and True Islam event at Panera on College Avenue
Local organization holds Coffee, Cake and True Islam event at Panera on College Avenue

Coffee, Cake and True Islam, an event intended to teach young women about the nature of Islamic culture, was held at the newly opened Panera on College Avenue on Saturday. The informal meetup was the first of many to take place at Rutgers.

On Saturday, the Central Jersey chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community hosted its first "Coffee, Cake, and True Islam" event for Rutgers students at the Panera Bread on the College Avenue campus.

The event is part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s national True Islam campaign, which hosts "Coffee, Cake, and True Islam" events across the country.

This event at Rutgers was hosted by Hena Tahir, a graduate student at Rutgers Newark, and Homaira Khandakar, the interfaith communication coordinator for the Central Jersey chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

“We started having these 'Coffee, Cake, and True Islam' meetings in different areas to raise awareness and promote the different points of Islam, and let people know what we’re all about,” Tahir said.

In New Jersey, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has three chapters — central, south and north, with two representatives who run meetups from each chapter.

As an undergraduate student at the College of New Jersey (TCNJ), Tahir regularly hosted meetups with students, where they learned about each other’s religions.

These meetups, as well as the ones hosted at Rutgers, are meant for female students, Khandakar said. The men of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have hosted their own outreach events for several years.

“We believe the ladies connect on a different level,” Khandakar said. “I totally believe that if anybody can bring peace in the world, it’s us. Our way of diplomacy is very different from the way men do politics or diplomacy because we actually do it from our heart.”

The meetup is meant to be an informal, personal opportunity for students to come have a free cup of coffee or snack, interact with women of Islamic faith, become educated on their beliefs, ask questions and begin friendships, Khandakar said.

“There’s so much going around about the beliefs of Islam, and we want to say, ‘this is not what we’re about,” Tahir said. “Every religion is here to bring peace.”

At Saturday’s meetup, attendees of different backgrounds also had the opportunity engage in a mutual conversation about their unique religious history, beliefs, rituals, holidays and learned about upcoming interfaith events and opportunities to learn about the Muslim community.

“The word ‘Islam’ is portrayed in such a negative light in the media,” Tahir said. “And we want to let people know that there are so many verses in the Holy Quran that say ‘do not create disorder in the world, do not seek enmity.’”

Tahir told a story from the Quran about the prophet Muhammad who would walk along the same street every day. Every day there was a lady who was against the message of Islam, and she would throw trash on him from her balcony.

“He never fought back or threatened her,” Tahir said. “One day, the lady didn’t throw trash on him, so he went up to check on her and found that she was really sick, and she was so shocked to see him care about her. If the prophet of a religion is so forgiving and kind, what makes people think that the religion he’s trying to promote has complete opposite teachings?”

Tahir and Khandakar plan to begin hosting weekly meetups on the New Brunswick campus on Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m., alternating locations between the Panera Bread on the College Avenue campus, and the Douglass Lounge on the third floor of the Douglass Student Center.

The next meetup will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 4, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Douglass Lounge. Tahir encouraged students to drop by for a cup of coffee or tea, to learn a little bit about Islam, and to make some new friends.

One of the purposes of the meetups is to direct people to visit the True Islam campaign website, Tahir said, which seeks to explain the Muslim beliefs, and to mediate misconceptions about Islam in American society.

“Extremists like ISIS depend on people’s ignorance of Islam to grow,” according to the campaign website.

On the premise that mutual understanding is a prerequisite for peace, the True Islam website provides 11 truths about Islam which address frequently misunderstood concepts. The first one is that Islam wholly rejects all forms of terrorism.

Among other topics, the truths also address Islam’s values of respect for women, recognition of human rights and loyalty to the country of residence, according to the website.