Local Muslims reach out to neighbors

Emad Malick of DeKalb is Muslim.

You might be able to guess that by the traditional clothing he wears, his beard or the way he talks. But he would prefer if his actions spoke louder than stereotypes and first-glance impressions.

“I follow my religion, and people often ask me about Islam,” Malick said. “I want to represent Islam for what it really is. My actions and being a good person will guide people and tell them what Islam is, what it is I believe.”

There are between 60 and 70 Muslim families in DeKalb and between 400 and 500 Muslim students at NIU. A 2015 estimate made by The Pew Research Center estimated that there are approximately 3.3 million Muslims living in the US and that Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion.

To answer questions and start an interfaith dialogue, a Holy Qur’an Exhibition took place July 16, at the Sycamore Public Library, 103 E. State St. Representatives from the Chicago Northwest chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, an auxiliary wing of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, met with locals to give an introduction to Islam and educate and dispel common myths and misunderstandings about the religion.

“We held the event to answer questions and clarify misconceptions about Islam,” Iftekhar Ahmad, national assistant director for outreach and president of the local Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, said. “With everything that is happening in the world – attacks, violence and bombings – we wanted to tell the truth of what our religion is really about. We have more in common with other religions than you might think. If we focused on that common ground instead of our differences, the world would be a better place.”

Jake Swick of Sycamore, a junior at Northern Illinois University, attended the exhibition with friends and discussed his experiences studying in Africa for three and a half weeks this summer.

“My experience in Africa showed me how not to be biased and to look beyond race and religion,” Swick said. “We are all equal, and there are good and bad people in all religions. We’re all in the same boat, with the same situations. If we just recognized that, it would be a much better world to live in.”

Religious tolerance
in DeKalb County

Many local people take an approach similar to Swick’s, Asad Quddus said.

Quddus who grew up in DeKalb and lives in Sycamore, said that aside from some bullying in high school, he has had few experiences with religious intolerance while living and working in DeKalb County.

“There is some religious ignorance, but most people are tolerant,” Quddus said. “In high school, my peers were immature, but most people here are usually very respectful.”

One common misconception is the way women are treated in Islam, Mohammed Labadi, the president of the Islamic Center of DeKalb, 801 Normal Road in DeKalb, said.

“Women are so valued in our religion,” he said. “In the Qur’an, women are given the right to inherit, vote and receive an education. Women not being able to drive is cultural and not based in Islam. The first person Muhammed told about his message from God was his wife. The first Muslim was a woman.”

Sarah Conner of DeKalb grew up in Chicago as an agnostic Christian. Conner, a convert to Islam, said that she enjoys more personal freedoms as a Muslim. As a Muslim woman, Conner said that she has never felt more respect and honor and has never felt inferior to men.

“Dressing in a hijab is a commandment from Allah, and we do it because it is pleasing to him,” she said. “Men also have to be modest, but in a different way. Modesty includes your actions, not just the clothes you wear. Both men and women cannot drink alcohol, eat pork or get tattoos. As a Muslim woman, I am equal to men, not lesser.”

Another issue for Muslims is that many people equate violence, bombings and shootings with their religion.

“ISIS and other Islamic terrorist organizations are rooted in personal gain and politics,” Ahmad said. “They have an agenda, and they use our religion as a scapegoat. Suicide is one of the worst possible sins in Islam. If you kill yourself, you can’t be forgiven. Because you have died, you have no chance of forgiveness.”

Labadi compares ISIS to hate groups such as neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. He is concerned that the media pays too much attention to terrorist attacks in Europe, but not in the Middle East.

“For every French or American person killed by ISIS, they kill 100 to 200 Muslims,” Labadi said. “The media focuses on America and Europe, not Turkey or Libya. Are their lives less important than other victims of ISIS? If a non-Muslim person kills, he is labeled a crazy person. If he’s a Muslim, he’s a terrorist. Last year, about 20,000 people died in America from gun violence, and between 50 and 100 people were killed by Islamic terrorists.”

Both Ahmad and Labadi agree that followers of ISIS are not true Muslims. Labadi said that he has seen videos of ISIS praying in many different directions and drinking alcohol in celebration, two basic and mandatory restrictions in Islam.

“There’s a quote in the Qur’an, that killing of a man is killing of all mankind,” Ahmad said. “That’s why suicide is one of the worst possible sins in Islam. If you kill yourself, you can’t be forgiven and have no chance of forgiveness because you are dead.”

Ashrafunnesa Flora of DeKalb, a doctoral student at NIU, wears her hijab, or head covering, every day to work and class. Although she has never been discriminated against at the university or at work, she said she has been heckled by teenagers while shopping.

“I wear my hijab in bright colors, and Muslim women are often more obvious to spot than men,” Flora said. “People here in DeKalb are very nice, it’s just that some people are ignorant and don’t know what it is we believe. Even though we are Muslim and look different, we are loving people.”

Flora believes that having more interfaith dialogue will remove many of the misconceptions about Islam.

“We need to frequently talk, because communication is important,” Flora said. “I want people to know that they are welcome to visit, to talk to us.”

Facts about Islam

• Followers are called Muslims

• “Islam” means “submission to God” in Arabic and comes from a root word meaning “peace.” In Arabic, the word “Muslim” means “one who submits or surrenders.”

• Muslims believe that Muhammed is the last messenger and prophet sent by God and that the text of the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammed by God through the angel Gabriel. The Qur’an, the central religious text of Islam, means “the recitation” in Arabic.

• Unlike many other world religions, Muslims use a lunar calendar, with the years starting after the Hijra, or Muhammed’s exile to Medina, 1437 years ago.

• Muslims believe in one God, Allah, and all the prophets, including those recognized by Jews and Christians.

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