“What Does It Mean to Be Muslim?” Discussion Draws a Crowd


(Photo taken by Ryan Haynes)

Ryan Haynes, Managing Editor

On Wednesday, April 6, the Muslim Student  Association held a special public forum event entitled “What does it Mean to be Muslim?” at 7 p.m. in the Little Theatre.  Mr. Simon, the sponsor of the Muslim Student Association and the Global Future Club, began planning this event “in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Muslim members of both our school community, and the Falls Church community at large, were subjected to hateful reprisals because of their religion,” as he noted in his opening remarks.

The night started off with Mr. Simon delivering an introductory speech about the evening’s events, and about the MSA and the Global Future Club.  The 80 guests on hand were then invited to enjoy the delicious treats that had been brought in from a variety of cultures.  Eventually people started making their way over to their seats to hear the panel speak.  The panel was comprised of: Mohammed Dawood, Muslim American Society Executive Director, Zeinab Zahow (12), President of the Falls Church MSA, Abdulla Baig, Founder of Koran by the Heart and Outreach, and Yasmin Mohran, a seventh grader at Longfellow Middle School.

The discussion started with Zeinab and Yasmin reading aloud poems that they had written about their faith.  Next, each member of the panel reflected on the challenges they’ve faced in publicly professing their faith, particularly in the last several months.  Mr. Dawood talked about how after September 11 he received death threats.  A receptionist at his work put down the phone and started crying one day because she had gotten so many threats.  Next, Zeinab talked about an encounter she had on the school bus a couple of months ago, in which a student said “terrorist” to her because of her religion.  Also, Yasmin recalled being made fun of for wearing a hijab but said, she “doesn’t regret it”.

Following the panel’s prepared comments, the audience was invited to ask questions.  The first was “Have you ever been negatively stereotyped?”  Yasmin replied, “Being called a terrorist doesn’t stop me from being myself.”  Mr. Baig pointed out that “women are more easily targeted because the wear the hijab.”  Zeinab explained that when she was called a terrorist she “laughed it off and took the opportunity to educate him.”

Later, an audience member asked, “How do you feel about society’s feeling towards Islam?”  The panel collectively agreed that society has too much of a negative connotation about Islam.  Mr. Baig brought up the point that we need to make Islamophobia as negative as being associated with the KKK.

When asked, “How has Islam affected your everyday life?” Yasmin talked about how she “takes 25 minutes each day to pray, and it is not a burden at all.”  Mr. Baig said Islam has affected his life in that it has shaped his morals like how “according to Sharia law it is illegal to go to sleep well fed if you know your neighbor is hungry.”  Zeinab shared that she keeps rugs in her locker to use to pray if she is staying after school.

The question-and-answer session concluded with the evening’s most broad inquiry: “What are some goals you would like to see achieved in our community regarding Islam?”  Yasmin said she would like to see people “be more open-minded.  People don’t see Muslims helping others—they only remember the shootings.”  Zeinab said “We should all become more educated.”  Finally, Mr. Dawood said, “this conversation is my goal”.

Overall, it was a great night that positively affected members of our community, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike.  Many guests were reminded of the misconceptions that mass media often puts in our heads about Islam, but in the end, they came away with a clearer meaning of the true intent of the religion.