UNC student Salma Rezk is the United Muslim Relief Triangle chapter president. This nonprofit organization focuses on building humanitarian coalitions to tackle developmental needs in the U.S. and other countries.
City Editor Kerry Lengyel spoke with Rezk about United Muslim Relief, her experience growing up Muslim and what she thinks needs to be done to bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims.
The Daily Tar Heel: Tell me more about United Muslim Relief Triangle.
Salma Rezk: It’s a national organization, and there are different chapters run by students. The Triangle chapter is one of the first chapters, and it’s one of the biggest chapters as well. Some of the things (United Muslim Relief) does is health care programs, education, water, sanitation, dental work and dental relief.
They focus on sustainability, so long-term results instead of temporarily fixing something. They’re trying to build from the ground up, so these people can one day help themselves.
DTH: What prompted you to be a part of Triangle Relief?
SR: Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to do volunteering. I’ve always filled up my entire schedule and after school with clubs and service projects.
That’s just something I’m used to doing. United Muslim Relief was just one of those things I happened to be involved in when it first started.
It was very small, very little interest, and it’s grown so much since then. We have almost 7,500 likes on Facebook, and we have hundreds of people come to our events.
So it’s gotten a lot bigger, and it’s just something that no matter who you are or what you do, this is an opportunity for you to give back to the community.
DTH: Why do you believe in the Muslim faith?
SR: Of course, growing up, you’re taught what your parents believe in, and that’s the first thing you’re exposed to. So that’s definitely how I was raised, and I didn’t really value it for anything — that’s just what was taught to me.
When I first started wearing my scarf, that was a time when I had to form my own identity, and I was forced to look at myself. I was like, “Who am I?” “What do I believe in?” and I was forced to look back into my faith and say, “Is it something I believe in, or is this something that I was just taught?” You have to reclaim yourself almost.
DTH: What would you want non-Muslims to know about the work you do?
SR: A lot of the common areas among the general population is thinking that Muslims are not outgoing, they’re not out there, they’re not condemning this and they’re not condemning that, they’re not really showing their face, and that’s something that we go against. Our voice is very much out there — you have to go, and you have to listen.
If you’re not willing to go out there and listen, then you’re not going to build that relationship.
DTH: Do you think there’s a stark divide between Muslims and non-Muslims?
SR: If you don’t know these people and you’ve never met one and you’ve never talked to one, you’re going to be inclined to believe everything you hear about them.
I think especially in the college environment, university environment, everyone’s more educated, and everyone’s more aware of the issues.
But I’ve had really good experiences growing up here in Chapel Hill. I think that would be my biggest advice. Just to meet a Muslim — they’re not that bad. It’ll change your opinion.