Tech’s One World hosts Q&A panel comprised of local Muslim women

Muslim women in Cookeville answered questions about Islam and their personal experiences living as minorities in the United States during a panel discussion April 3 in Prescott Hall.

The panel of six Muslim women consisted of community members Dr. Abir Eldaba, Dr. Ambareen Siraj, Arwen Stewart, Dr. Perihan Fidan, Hosi Karzai and Sonya S’adeh. The event, sponsored by One World, offered an opportunity to debunk stereotypes surrounding their religion.  

Below is a recap of highlighted topics.

What are your religious beliefs?

“We all believe in one God,” Stewart said.

Karzai said the Islam religion emphasizes the importance of doing what is right and treating everyone with respect and kindness in the Islam religion.

 “The biggest lesson we’ve been taught … do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Karzai said.

What does the hijab mean? Why do you personally choose to wear / not wear it?

 “It’s modesty. If I walk outside without my scarf, I feel naked,” said. S’adeh, who converted to the Islam religion.

“For me, modesty is my action and my behavior,” Siraj said in explaining why she chooses not to wear a scarf.

What is the most common misconception about Muslims?

Fidan said it is a common belief that women are forced to wear a hijab. This is not always the case. For many women, it is a choice, she said.

Karzai said the environment in Muslim countries changed over the past few years. Woman may feel forced to conform because of cultural norms.

“There’s a difference between religion and culture,” S’adeh said.

Karzai said she believes misconceptions about Islam come from a lack of education and stereotypes perpetuated by the media and politicians.

“It is our job as a community to speak up and correct the misrepresentation,” she said.

Do you experience rejection/dislike in Cookeville?

Fidan said in the past 18 years she’s only had a few negative experiences regarding her religion.

Dr. Ada Haynes, the moderator for the panel, said the number of incidents reported to her in the area have increased in the past few years.

Stewart said she believes when a society elects someone with strong views like President Trump, people with similar beliefs feel they can speak more freely.

What’s your opinion on government that operates under a religion?

“Religion cannot be politicized, ever. It’s very personal … a personal relationship with God,” Stewart said.

Karzai said historically people practice their religion despite all obsticles.

What about your religion is sacred to you?

Eldaba said manners are important in the Islam religion.

“If you don’t have the five pillars and don’t have good manners, you’re in trouble,” she said.

The five pillars are shahada (declaration of faith), salat (prayer), zakst (almsgiving), sawm (fasting during Ramadan) and Hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca).

Stewart said their prayer rituals are very important to her because they help build a connection to God.

Anything else you’d like to say?

“I want you to remember that I’m a human,” Eldaba said. “I make mistakes. I want you to know that any mistakes I make are mine, not my religion’s.”

“Religion to me is all about finding a path to God, finding peace, to me about finding peace with myself and my community,” Siraj said.