By Amber Bollman, 16,
Andrea Cowden, 13,
Lisa Schubert, 16
Y-Press, May 2003
This story originally ran in The Indianapolis Star on February 25, 1996.
What do you think of when you think of Muslims? For a lot of people, the Islamic religion brings to mind terrorists and fundamentalist maniacs.
In truth, though, American Muslims are regular people. To talk to young Muslims about the stereotypes, Y-Press’ Indianapolis bureau visited the North American Islamic Center in Plainfield and the Masjid Al-Fajr mosque in Indianapolis. In addition, CE’s New York Bureau visited the Masjid Al-Albin center in Queens, N.Y., to talk to Islamic youths there.
Nazreen Bacchus, 12 : I really hate when we’re called terrorists. In the Oklahoma bombing, everyone assumed it was Muslims, and I was praying, “Please don’t let it be Muslims, please.”
Mona Zenhom, 16: I think if you ask any youth living within the Oklahoma/Louisiana/Arizona/Texas area, you would know for the 72 hours in which they didn’t know who had committed the bombing were the most terrifying days, especially down in that area for any Muslim person to walk on the street. I know a lot of Muslim people who did not go to school because they were being harassed.
Amena Majid, 14 : There have been a lot of terrorists and weird happenings going on in this world. But one crazy person does not speak for an entire religion or people. Everybody is unique and they have their own unique ways of doing things.
Muaath Al-Khattab, 15 : I think it’s getting better, but there’s still a lot of stereotypes because people mix it up with the Nation of Islam, like all the nationalistic stuff.
We need to keep coming out on television and radio to try to represent it correctly because a lot of misinformation is being sent out to the world and to the media. Some people think you’re a nationalist or a Black Muslim.
Khadir Al-Khattab, 16 : I just feel kind of upset and misrepresented because that’s not what I am. I try to correct it and tell them if they want to know what the right Islam is and the differences.
Mona: Sometimes I feel like I like living in a diverse community, but then sometimes I feel like I want to go back to Egypt because I wouldn’t feel so different, and I wouldn’t have to face all these challenges. But you get used to it, and it becomes part of you.
Ryaz ul-Ahmad, 12 : When you’re a Muslim, you take it all in stride. That’s what God says in the Koran. So that’s what you try to do.
Wahida Rahim, 15 : When I first entered high school, people were very prejudiced against me. No one else in the school was wearing a keimar; I was the first person to do that. When I walked down the hallways, everyone stared at me. I got mad one day and stood in the hall and started telling them about my religion. Then they got interested in it and weren’t prejudiced. Now more Muslim people in school have begun to wear their hijab (white veils).
Mona: My family is the only Muslim family in our community. It’s like you have to go somewhere else to feel like you are part of something.
At school – it’s like an all-white school – I have many friends, and it’s cool with them that I’m Muslim. It’s not like it’s a big deal with them. But there are those who don’t want to face somebody in their school that is different. It’s like, “We don’t care. We don’t want you around.”
Farah Ahmed, 14: I think everybody should follow what they believe, and if you believe in Islam, you follow it. Just because you’re in another environment, you don’t just go with another group. Just because I’m the only Muslim at my school doesn’t mean I’m going to be Christian at school and Muslim at my house. If you believe in something, you do it wherever you go, and you make it your life.
Khadir: My school is called Masjid Al-Fajr – that’s in Arabic, but in translation means “the school of knowledge.” When people ask me, I mostly tell them the school of knowledge.
It’s a small parochial private school and it consists of first grade up to the 10th grade. . . . It consists of a lot of different people from different cultures, different countries, and the main theme of our school is Islam, just like different private schools where the main thing is Christianity or Catholicism.
We have everything just like other public schools have – math, science, English, history. We may have other classes like Islamic studies and Arabic classes.
Nazreen: I go to a Catholic school. It’s not very hard to go there because most people respect me. Christians and Muslims aren’t really far apart in what they believe. They believe in one God, except some of their beliefs are different.
A lot of people don’t know much about our religion. If you tell them, then they’ll understand. I want to be a teacher so I can teach kids about different religions and show them that you shouldn’t be prejudiced.
Amena: It’s important to have friends, period, but not based on religion. It’s the heart that counts. My friends and I have learned to adapt to each other. They invite me to their prayers, I invite them to ours. It’s nice having people of other religions as friends. It’s interesting when you talk about your different beliefs and what you do.
Mona: I think there needs to be more respect for everybody around you. I don’t see respect for parents anymore, I don’t see respect for teachers, I don’t see respect for authorities or just even your peers. There is no respect. Today, if you’ve got the strength, that’s all that counts.
Muaath: I don’t care about the race (of my friends). If you like the person’s personality and you like the person – if he’s fun to be around or if he’s a good influence on you.
Ryaz: I have Jewish friends. We don’t really discuss Israel. We don’t get into fights over it. But in school last year, we were studying India and how it got split between the Muslims and Hindus. That whole year all the Muslim and Hindu kids in the class were fighting over which one was right.
Amena: Being a Muslim is based on . . . giving charity, fasting during the month of Ramadan, praying five times a day, and devotion to the world of Allah. Allah is our sustainer and creator.
Ryaz: We also have to do a hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca. There are two books that we study from to be a good Muslim, the Koran and the Hadith (the sayings, actions and teachings of Mohammad). We pray five times a day.
Khadir: Some of the rules are: Obey the parents and be kind to each other, no profanity or anything, and love and try to help each other if anyone has problems. . . . You’ve got to have trust in each other and love for each other, and like to help each other out. You just can’t go your own way and think about yourself. You just got to be loving and caring . . . and be sincere in everything you do for your family and everybody else.
Muaath: In Islam, you are not really allowed to date. It’s only if you have the intention of getting married. So, if you want to go out, you would have to have a chaperone.
Khadir: The prophets came to proclaim good and forbid evil and try to bring all of mankind together, toward Paradise and God. . . . We just believe that Jesus is a prophet of God. And we believe God is supreme, we have to obey Him and worship Him and try to do good. Islam is peace and submission to the obedience of God. So Islam is the religion of peace and love.
Muaath: My mother and father always tell us, “Don’t be mediocre. Don’t settle for medium. Always strive to be the best. Try to be excellent at whatever you do, and if you want to do something, go for it.”
Khadir: You got to have trust in each other and love for each other and like to help each other out. You just can’t go your own way and think about yourself.
ASSISTANT EDITORS: Sandy Chu, 17, Sarah Rosen, 18, Denise Reich, 18, and Reniqua Allen, 14, Children’s Express, New York.