Muslim students talk stereotypes, Islamic faith

Fatmah AlQadfan, graduate student in drama therapy, wants more people to understand her culture and faith. (Miranda Snyder | The Collegian)

Multiple terrorist attacks on European and American soil last year and the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaigns once again stirred up controversy surrounding the Islamic faith. Muslim K-Staters weighed in about their Islamic faith and how it plays a role in their lives.

Everyday Islam

For some Muslims at K-state, Islam is not just a religion, it is a peaceful way of life.

“I practice Islam everyday in every single area of my life,” Sami Dhawi, senior in engineering technology, said. “So it’s like a lifestyle for me.”

Dhawi said she is originally from the city of Jeddah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a country where Islam is the only religion practiced.

“Islam is not just praying or fasting, it’s a way of life,” Fatmah Al-Qadfan, graduate student in theater, said. “So, it’s like extending kindness, it’s being studious, it’s being kind to animals and people, your neighbors.”

Though Western media often portrays Middle Eastern countries as hostile and violent toward other religions, some Muslims students said that is inaccurate.

“(The media) wants to give you a message, and their message, I think, is all Muslims are terrorists and all Muslims are bad, even though sometimes they don’t say that clearly,” Dhawi said. “Sometimes they give a picture of an accident or a bomb or something like that and then they bring up an Arabic picture. They’ll put these pictures together, and they’ll say, ‘What do you think?'”

According to Lama Alanazi, senior in interior design, Islam teaches Muslims to be peaceful to everyone.

“For starters, we say hi to each other with a phrase, ‘May peace and God’s mercy be upon you,’ so Islam asked us to greet each other like this for a reason,” Alanazi said. “It did not say fight with your brothers. It said greet yourself with peaceful greetings.”

Alanazi said many Muslim cultures, including the culture of Saudi Arabia, are very welcoming.

“I love my culture,” Alanazi said. “I love how hospitable we are. They’re very hospitable. Even when I invite friends over to my house, I still have that Arabic hospitality in me, so I do all these crazy things. I’m used to it.”

All Middle Eastern countries and people are not the same

Though many countries in the Middle East are chiefly Islamic nations, not all people from the Middle East are Muslim. According to Al-Qadfan, Middle Eastern people can practice any religion or none at all, and a lot of people sometimes do not realize that.

“Maybe another issue is that people don’t realize that the Middle East is not just comprised of Muslims,” Al-Qadfan said. “You can be Christian, you can be an Arab, you can be a Jewish Arab. You could be an Arab Atheist. It’s not as if Arab equals Muslim. That’s one thing that people forget about the region. Same with America, it’s not just a country full of Christians.”

Dhabi also said the media portrays the Middle East as less ideologically diverse than it really is, and there is a mix of different religions and ideologies throughout the region.

As the daughter of a diplomat, Al-Qadfan said she has traveled to many Middle Eastern countries, where she has visited both mosques and churches.

“It’s just part of my culture,” Al-Qadfan said. “It’s just such a new and foreign concept to me to say that, ‘These people are Christian, or whatever, these people are from a different faith, therefore, I should be hostile to them.’ That’s not how we were raised. This is definitely something I was exposed to when I moved to the U.S. and saw Western media.”

Though many countries in the Middle East are religiously connected by having a vast Muslim majority, all countries in the Middle East are not the same, Al-Qadfan said. Different countries have different rules and social norms.

“Culturally they are very different,” Al-Qadfan said. “You might drive three hours and be in a different country, but they are very different. It’s a whole new set of rules, and I can do something that is considered offensive there that is totally OK in my country. Each culture is unique.”

Not only are the countries and cultures in the Middle Eastern different, Islam can also be different for every Muslim. Islam is a personal religion that allows each individual to practice his or her faith however he or she feels comfortable, according to both Al-Qadfan and Alanazi.

“I know so many American people who are Muslim, and they don’t cover,” Alanazi said. “That doesn’t mean that they aren’t Muslim. It’s just I chose to show my religion this way. It doesn’t mean that I’m right, they’re wrong. It’s just individuality in religion.”

In 642 A.D., following the death of the prophet Muhammed, followers were divided by who they believed should be his successor. The schism led to the formation of Islam’s two largest sects, the Shiites and Sunnis. While Muslims agree on the basics of Islam, Al-Qadfan said she is sometimes used in her classes to represent her entire faith.

“Sometimes when a topic comes up in a classroom that is related to the Middle East or Islam, everyone turns their head and looks at me like I’m the expert, but I’m not the expert,” Al-Qadfan said. “That’s interesting, like, having to represent all the time.”

Muslim student opposes double standard of religious stereotypes

Mariam Alhajri, freshman in biology, said people in Manhattan are very kind; however, in larger cities, where Muslim communities are also larger, the population generally tends to be more educated about Islam and Muslims.

“If you go to bigger cities like LA or New York, you can find many nationalities, so because they are big cities and many Muslims are there, they’re more educated than here,” Alhajri said.

Alhajri said, however, that even at K-State there are still double standards being taught by some educators.

“I took a geography class last semester, and (the professor) talked about all the religions and she was very fair with all of them,” Alhajri said. “She said something about ISIS, and she said, ‘I know that ISIS does not do what Islam says, but ISIS is Muslim.’ But when she was talking about what the KKK does, she said they are not Christian.”

For Al-Qadfan, it is tiresome to see this double standard argued.

“People always want to get into these arguments and say that ‘But those people are not real Christian,'” Al-Qadfan said. “It gets old. It gets tiring having to say, ‘They (ISIS) don’t represent Islam.'”

Alanazi said she shared a similar experience in a sociology class when a professor made statements about Islam that she felt were far from true.

“I know it’s sociology, we talk about this stuff, but you have to do a little research about it,” Alanazi said. “Know who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s very hurtful to know that there are people ignorant like that.”

Al-Qadfan said there are two ways a non-Muslim should go about educating themselves about Islam.

“Meet someone, talk to them and ask questions,” Al-Qadfan said.”But, the second way, if you want to read about a topic, go to a primary source.”