Muslim students, faculty tackle Islamic misconceptions, discuss experience

By Victoria Joshua

February 13, 2013

On Jan. 31, six Dominican University Muslim students and faculty members gathered in the Social Hall to share their experiences of being Muslim in America.

Sponsored by Dominican’s center for Global Peace through Commerce, Core Curriculum and Interfaith Cooperation Committee, “Islam in America” allowed the Dominican community to listen and dialogue on various issues facing the Islamic community.

Associate Academic Dean for Advising Sr. Melissa Waters said she believed that the dialogue represented Dominican’s very mission and statement of participating in the creation of a more just and humane world.

“This panel brought so many of us together,” Waters said, “around questions of our belonging to each other.”

Among the panelists were Abdulrahman Alkali, Mohamed Askar, Anela Beslagic, Aly Drame, Riham Mataria and Khalid Razaki, all of whom expressed their deep feeling that they are ordinary people who strive to be pleasing in God’s eyes like any other spiritual being.

Though student panelist Abdulrahman Alkali described many of the friends that he gained in America as respectful towards his religion and though student Riham Razaki described her experience as having to make a personal adjustment to American food, the remaining panelists had both good and bad experiences. Associate Professor of Management Mohamed Askar and Associate Professor of Accounting Khalid Razaki said they believed that the positive image of Muslims has been somewhat tarnished through stereotypes.

An example of stereotypical expectations occurred during the dialogue’s question and answer period, when one student asked Anela Beslagic, a Dominican student and Sunni Muslim, how she considered herself of the Islamic religion if she did not wear a hijab.

In response, Beslagic stated that her family was not as religiously strict and was open to the different types of Islamic customs.

“Religion’s always been something that was left up to me…I do what I can,” Beslagic said.

“I don’t eat pork, I respect Ramadan and I fast as much as I can. I don’t think it’s anyone else’s decision about how I can call myself a Muslim, besides me and the man upstairs.”

Another example of stereotypical expectations occurred during a dialogue on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the war on terror. It was after those events that an atmosphere of fear, hatred and misperceptions towards Muslims was created.

“Feel free to voice your mind; don’t be afraid,” Professor of History Aly Drame reassuringly told the crowd, who said that he believes that we have to begin to work together to fix the current problems in America.

At one point of the dialogue, an audience member did ask the panel to talk about their personal thoughts following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and about the term “Islamophobia.”

Associate Professor of Accounting Khalid Razaki described how he felt emotionally attached to the American people after the attacks.

“On 9/11, I truly felt like I was an American and I felt the pain and sorrow of this country,” Razaki stated.

However, Razaki raised an interesting point when he pointed out that public attitudes are somewhat hypocritical in terms of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which grants the freedom of religion among all people.

“In America today, you can build a church, a synagogue, a temple,” Razaki stated. “But the moment an issue comes up of building a mosque, most American communities react against it.”

In support of Razaki’s statement, Professor Mohamed Askar said he believed that many American people made a critical mistake by holding all Muslims or all Islamic countries, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, accountable for the brutal attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001 rather than singling out the individuals who perpetrated the acts.

“9/11 is not an act of Islam; it is an act of terrorism,” Askar said. “We must understand, who was this Muslim, who was this person next to and what did he believe in. Our mission is to live in the world and grow it, not to destroy it.”

In the end, “Islam in America” proved that there is a solution not only to the issues that the American people are faced with, but to the issues that humanity shares collectively.

Director of Student Involvement Michael Lango said he believed that “Islam in America” was a much-needed dialogue for the Dominican community:

“It’s a wonderful example of the types of programs that we can do here (at Dominican),” Lango said.

“It brings awareness to the multiple faiths that exist in our university and it brings appreciation to those faiths.”