By Hannah Fakhrzadeh
“I don’t feel oppressed. I feel liberated.”
For Abrar Ebady, a senior biology major, wearing a hijab is not how the media portrays it. While wearing the hijab started at a young age for Edady, it is ultimately her choice to continue.
“The hijab is really about modesty,” said Farsha Rizwan, a senior biology major.
Hosted by the Muslim Students’ Association, “Ask A Muslim” was held on Wednesday, April 12. It provided students the opportunity to ask questions to a panel consisting of students and two special guests about the misconceptions of Islam and life as a Muslim in America.
“(The event) is a great way to learn about another religious group on campus and it provides students and faculty alike (the chance) to have their questions answered,” said Zahra Memon, MSA’s public relations co-chair and a sophomore deaf education and iSTEM double major.
At the event, questions were anonymously submitted to ensure students felt comfortable asking about a range of topics.
“We want everyone to be honest with asking whatever they are curious about,” said Alizeh Shamshad, MSA’s public relations co-chair and a sophomore biology major. “By keeping it anonymous, nobody needs to worry about potentially offending someone due to their question, as we would love to answer every question you have. No question is offensive, as the end goal of each question is to develop a greater understanding and facilitate awareness.”
Sameera Chaudry, a general member of MSA and a junior biology major, agreed.
“This kind of open discussion can serve to unite the TCNJ community by fostering an atmosphere of understanding and unity,” she said.
Dr. Mateen Khan, a guest speaker, physician and a Muslim community leader who has dedicated his life to studying and teaching the Quran, believes the panel helped students better understand each other.
“Panels like these help to break down these walls and help us understand one another as fellow human beings,” he said. “Islam is a beautiful religion which over a billion people attribute themselves to. It is worth sharing and understanding.”
Yaseen Ayuby, a panelist and a junior applied mathematics major, reminded the audience to learn for themselves and to “take what you see on the media with a grain of salt.”
Ebady further explained educating oneself and directed the audience to a book titled “The Sealed Nectar” in which she calls, “a beautiful interpretation of Islam.”
The second guest speaker, Kieran Webster, a Rutgers University–New Brunswick graduate student studying business strategy and human resource management, loves the journey Islam has taken him on. Webster wasn’t born into an Islamic family. Instead, he made the choice to convert from Christianity to Islam about three years ago.
“Islam is a religion of logic. The foundation of our religion is ‘as salaamu `alaykum’ which means ‘May the peace and security of God be upon you.’” Webster said. “It elevates us beyond bias, prejudice or bigotry because with this greeting, we are made aware that we worship one God and we seek peace by being peaceful with one another.”
After a question inquired about the injustices of the panelists, Ebady and Nawal Mubin, a sophomore communication studies major, shared their stories.
Mubin described a moment she had with a supermarket shopper. She said, at first, she was unsure how the interaction would pan out. She soon realized that the woman was genuinely interested in learning about her culture.
Ebady recalls a time she passed a group of guys on her walk home from a party. As she passed, she heard them call out “terrorist.”
“I was genuinely afraid for my life,” Ebady said.
While the event allowed the panelists to share their stories, it also became a learning experience for both the audience and panelists.
“I learned more about my religion than I expected tonight,” said Roshaan Iqbal, a sophomore biology major and one of the student panelists for the event. “There were some concepts about my religion that I didn’t even fully understand, and even I got some of those concepts and ideas cleared up.”
Liana Shehata, MSA’s historian and a sophomore psychology major, said Muslim Americans are just average Americans.
“We go through the same struggles and live our lives normally here in the States — we just have beliefs and cultures that differ from the Western culture, and different isn’t necessarily bad,” she said.