Muslim groups host educational forum

Amy Hackbarth

Sumbal Mahmud was sitting in a University Law School lounge when she heard about the Sept. 11 attacks. As a Muslim, she feared she would be ostracized because of her beliefs.

“There was so much uncertainty,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m a Muslim woman wearing a scarf. What are they going to do to me?'”

On Saturday, more than a month later, Mahmud laid her fears to rest. As the hostess of a daylong Islamic conference, “Islam Uncensored,” at the Law School, Mahmud witnessed 200 people learning about the culture she feared would be persecuted.

“To be here after the attacks, to have prayer here in the same building I heard about them in, is amazing,” Mahmud said. “After the attacks, I didn’t know what way my life was going to go in, but now I know things can be OK.”

Local Muslim Hany Atchan developed “Islam Uncensored” after seeing the desire for knowledge about Islam grow after Sept. 11.

“We wanted to create a forum to put out some in-depth Islamic information,” said Taqee Khaled, president of the Muslim Student Association, which helped organize the event. “Not stereotypes, not propaganda, just a genuine Islamic experience.”

Event coordinators organized local Muslims to discuss topics that some Muslims say are riddled with stereotypes and myths, such as the role of women in Islam and the current crisis through Muslims’ eyes.

“We wanted people to get a fuller and more complete understanding of Muslims, to get a perspective from the horse’s mouth rather than from sources that may be distorted,” said Nadia El-Deeb, president of the al-Madinah Cultural Center.

Hannia Chahn, a member of the Minnesota Chapter of the Muslim American Society, reconciled Islamic beliefs with the American system in a presentation during the event. He said nothing in the American Constitution prohibits Muslims from accessing their rights, citing the representative democracy that is present both in Islam and in the United States.

Samir Saikali, a member of the Islamic Resource Group, said some Americans don’t consider the historical background of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Since Sept. 11, I’ve felt a change in atmosphere. For many ordinary people here, it’s as if history began Sept. 11,” Saikali said. “In Muslim eyes, the problems have been going on for many years and have caused a lot of pain. You can’t disrespect that and say it’s just part of history.”

Outside of the forum room, booths with Islamic food, clothing, books and art clogged the hallway. Women painted hands with henna. Others sold copies of the Quran.

“We tried to put together an event which would give a taste of all aspects of Muslims and Islam, not just speakers and topics,” Khaled said.

Similar events will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 24 and Dec. 15 in room 25 of the law building. Saturday’s forums lasted 45 minutes, but the next two events will feature two-hour breakout sessions and more discussion on issues such as women in Islam and science in the Quran.

“People come here with a lot of questions,” said Arif Iftekhar, a graduate student and member of the Muslim Student Association. “Where else are people able to ask a question to the Muslim community?”

Alex Magidow, a postsecondary enrollment option student, and his sister Lillian went to the event with questions about women in Islam.

“I feel very ignorant about Islam,” said Lillian. “It’s shameful for me to work and live with people and not know anything about them.”

 

Amy Hackbarth encourages comments at [email protected]