Goal of Islamic Awareness Week to clarify religious misconceptions

Panels will discuss effects of Sept. 11 on Muslims.

Leading to the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11, the Muslim Student Association began its awareness week with a panel focusing on the attitudes of Islamic culture toward women.

The panel consisted of three Islamic community members answering questions ranging from their head cover to birth control methods to marital sanctions.

"It was a good event to introduce Islam," said MSA member Sabry Abd-El-Fattah.

Abd-El-Fattah came to America from Egypt last year to pursue a master's degree in education and psychology at Ball State.

"It is important also because of the events of Sept. 11," Abd-El-Fattah said. "(We need) to clarify misconceptions about Islam."

Non-Muslim audience members were mostly curious about the traditional Islamic dress. Mediator Cecili Williams said the head-cover and loose, full-body covering tradition is cultural.

"Some Muslim countries do not cover, and the women wear western dress," Williams said. "Every culture considers whether or not to wear the head-cover."

Afghani panelist Bebe Bahrami said those who wish to obey the tradition will cover their entire body. Bahrami then offered an example of how American society has been accepting of Islamic observance, explaining how her niece - who attends a high school in Yorktown - must take part in swimming for her physical education class.

Bahrami said the requirements for the class presented a problem for her niece, because public swimming is not allowed for women in Islamic culture.

"The family wrote a note and it excused her from swimming," Bahrami said.

Panelists said they obtain most of their clothing from bazaars in large cities (like Chicago) or from seamstresses within their Muslim community.

"Women wear the dress because Islam takes the focus away from choosing clothing - something Muslims see as trivial," Bahrami said.

"Covering is not something we are forced to do," Saudi panelist Mona Turjurman said. "It is part of our protection. We don't want to be viewed as sex symbols."

Because the panel was centered on women's issues, many questions about birthing and children - from abortion, birth control and family structure - also arose.

"Women are not allowed to have abortions unless the health of the mother is in consideration," panelist Rene Conley said.

Conley, an Islamic Muncie native, is the first African American to maintain a law office in Muncie.

Panelists described the reason behind their abortion beliefs, centering on Islam's focus of the will of one God - Allah.

"Even women who have tubal ligation still have children," Bahrami said. "If it was meant to happen, it will happen, no matter what."

Senior Angie Matz said Bahrami's comment intrigued her.

"It's interesting that Muslims are against abortion," Matz said. " And even though they are able to use birth control, they think God will let it (pregnancy) happen anyway."

Williams said sex and consummation of a relationship is more naturally accepted in Islamic cultures than other cultures.

"When a couple consummates, they pray in the event that a child could be created," Williams said. "Relations in Islam are part of nature because they create life."

Audience members said they had much to learn about Islamic culture from the panelists.

"I appreciated the opinion of the panel on the subject of non-judgment in Islam," junior Stephanie Miller said. "Beliefs in Islam are beneficial to human kind as a whole because they focus on peace and acceptance - not a frivolous and materialistic way of living."


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