By Youness Tihm
(May 18, 2006) — Before coming to the United States as a student, I thought being a Muslim would cause me trouble once I got here, especially after the 9/11 nightmare and the effects it had on the whole world, particularly U.S. policies regarding Muslims.
In fact, I believe that a large number of Americans still have a very limited knowledge of Islam and Muslims.
So, I decided that I would be positive and get more involved with people here as long as my principles are not being compromised.
I am one of nearly 10 Muslim students at Nazareth College. I get involved in interfaith activities and class discussions that deal with Islam and other religions as well. I also always try to let people see what being a Muslim truly means through community service and volunteer work. Last fall, I volunteered at the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Nazareth. I also worked in a refugee resettlement project and served as a translator for a Somali family.
During spring break, I helped Hurricane Katrina victims in Mississippi. I did this because Islam teaches that regardless of our differences, we still have to be available when needed. I greatly thank Nazareth College for making all these activities accessible and within everyone's reach. As a result, I could help correct others' misconceptions about my religion.
Misconceptions about Muslims that I have heard repeatedly, even in college settings, include that we have little respect for women and that we are violent people.
I have tried to address these issues in formal presentations and informal conversations with classmates, roommates and faculty as well. I have repeatedly stressed that Islam granted women their social, religious, economic as well as political rights that they did not enjoy before. However, if some people adopt a Taliban-like conduct toward women, this is not to be blamed on Islam, but on those who misinterpret and misuse religious texts.
As for violence, one of the meanings of the word "Islam" is peace, and Islam is truly a religion of peace.
I am doing an internship at the Moroccan Embassy this summer, and I will try to positively contribute to and participate in the activities and programs that are related to these very issues of women's rights and peace.
I do believe that the western media have distorted the image of Islam and Muslims on several occasions. But this is not to say Muslims are persecuted in the United States. I strongly believe that this is an unsubstantiated claim. Religious freedom is a fact in the United States. There are several examples that illustrate this. At Nazareth, many students and staff volunteered to give me a daily ride to the mosque for night prayers, Tarawih, during the month of Ramadan.
The college fully supported the idea that there should be a Muslim Students Association and helped me create one on campus. Furthermore, Campus Ministry at the college has two rooms with everything a Muslim needs to pray. Also, my professors gave me a day off to celebrate the end of Ramadan.
In this respect, I am sure Nazareth College is doing a lot and is willing to do more to support Muslim students.
Finally, I am determined to carry on what I do and be out with people and show them what Islam is really about, and then convey my experience to the people back home in Morocco to extend the bridge of understanding.
Tihm, a citizen of Morocco, is studying at Nazareth College as part of the Partnerships for Learning Undergraduate Studies program through the U.S. State Department.