Muslim-U.S. relations still tense six years after attacks

Catrina Cieslik

Islamic students tackle cultural stereotypes

Hamzah Khalaf, enior integrated science major, and freshman nursing major Jamil Adams both agree that one of the major misconceptions about the Muslim religion is the use of the word “jihad.” They say while most believe it has a war connotation, it really

Credit: Ron Soltys

Terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 left more than 3,000 dead in New York and Washington, D.C. Since then, some people in Muslim and western cultures have turned against each other.

“I remember before 9/11, the westerners were intrigued by the Muslim culture,” said Yacine Djemil, sophomore accounting major and one of five council members of the Muslim Student Association. “Now, the Taliban and the United States government have turned on each other because of the different ideologies.”

Because of isolated incidents and attacks, tension has continued to grow between the two cultures, Djemil said.

The U.S. government used to give the countries where the Taliban ruled more funding, Djemil said, adding that Muslims were considered allies during the Cold War, but now there is tension between Muslims and Americans.

Before the relations between the U.S. and the Middle East can evolve, there are misconceptions about the Muslim culture that have to be addressed, added Djemil.

“Islam does not condone violence, and the word Islam actually means peace in Arabic,” Djemil said.

One of the biggest misconceptions of the Muslim culture is about the way women are treated.

“(Americans) think that women are oppressed, but it is the woman’s choice and an act of modesty,” said Hamzah Khalaf, senior integrative life and science major and council member of the Muslim Student Association.

Differences

There are many differences between Muslim culture and the American way of life.

While American culture puts an emphasis on living life to the fullest, the Muslim culture considers Earth as a test. Muslims believe the present life is a trial in preparation for the next realm of life, said Sajid Mirza, sophomore integrated life sciences major and member of the Muslim Student Association.

“We strongly believe in life after death,” Mirza said.

Muslims are prohibited from participating in activities that most Americans take for granted.

Muslims are not allowed to date, drink alcohol, eat pork, do drugs, practice casual sex before marriage or smoke.

“Smoking is a point of debate among the Muslim community, but I personally do not think it should be allowed,” said Yacine Djemil, sophomore accounting major and one of five council members of the Muslim Student Association.

Both Americans and the strong Muslim believers who are more conservative misunderstand Americanized Muslim women.

Both men and women are required to be covered to a certain extent. Men are expected to be covered from their navel to their knees and women have to cover their hair, torso area, arms and legs, depending on how religious they are, Djemil said.

“The West does not understand that we aren’t slaves and that we are treated with respect,” said Alia Awadallah,Copy editor 4 4/20/08 major different online freshman biochemistry major and member of the Muslim Student Association. “The conservative Muslims think that I should be covered up.”

Before Americans and non-Muslims can understand the Muslim way of life, they have to keep an open mind, Awadallah said.

“We are normal college students, and we are not much different than anyone else, but we are a lot stricter by what we can and cannot do,” Awadallah said.

Women have the same rights as men; they are not oppressed. Women have the right to an education and have the right to initiate a divorce, Djemil said.

Another concept about the Muslim culture that Americans need to understand is their religion and different ideologies.

There are five practices that all Muslims complete in their lifetime.

Muslims pray and fast regularly, visit Mecca at least once in their life, donate to charity and recite Shahada, which is the testifying of one God and Muhammad as its only prophet, Awadallah said.

“Muslim is not a religion, it’s a way of life,” said Sajid Mirza, sophomore integrative life sciences major and member of the Muslim Student Association.

The goal of the Muslim Student Association is to help Americans understand the fastest growing religion that makes up roughly 1.5 billion people. The Muslim Student Association meets every Wednesday night and encourages non-Muslims to attend so they can better understand the Muslim religion.

There are roughly 300 to 400 people on campus who practice the Muslim culture and around 70 to 100 people who show up and participate in events sponsored by the Muslim Student Association, Djemil said.

Before non-Muslims turn against the Muslim culture, they should do their research or go to one of the weekly meetings held by the Muslim Student Association, Mirza said.

“Americans should not believe everything they see and hear through the media because the pop culture is publicized and that is all they see,” Mirza said.

Contact religion reporter Catrina Cieslik at [email protected]