Fatten Elkomy said moving to the United States helped her strengthen her Islamic faith. A native of Egypt, Elkomy said the tradition of wearing hijab — the modest clothing that covers most of the body and head — was beginning to fade.
“I began wearing hijab when I was 13,” Elkomy said Tuesday night at a discussion called, “Faces of Islam in America.”
“It was a big challenge in a country where hijab was nearly disappeared. In the U.S., I felt like I had more freedom,” Elkomy said.
The MU chapter of the Muslim Student Organization presented the discussion, in the Arts and Sciences Building, as part of the organization’s annual Islam Awareness Week, which began Monday.
Five presenters, including Elkomy, spoke candidly about their unique experiences of being Muslim in America. In between some of the speaker’s presentations, emcee Nabila Khaleel of MSO showed the audience a clip from the film, “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet.”
Elkomy said displaying her Muslim identity through wearing hijab seemingly encourages people in the United States to be more comfortable about asking questions.
“I find people are more open to discuss religion this way, and I have an opportunity to explain why I am doing this,” she said. “It has been great for me to interact with different cultures.”
The next speaker, MU student Maaz Maqbool, told the audience about his upbringing as a Muslim in New York City.
“As I grew up, I was able to see the exchange between religions, and I wasn’t really ever afraid of being Muslim,” he said.
Maqbool said his move to Columbia changed his perception of diversity.
“When I came here, I found what I considered ‘diversity’ to change,” he said. “The bigger the city, the more people tend to keep to themselves. In New York City, there are probably 100 (mosques). Here in Columbia, there is one mosque. It forces you to meet people.”
Maqbool told the audience that being a New Yorker largely shaped they way he felt about the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“It was shocking to me when I didn’t see it, it was like there was a hole in the sky,” he said about the World Trade Center towers, which used to dominate his vista each morning commute into the city.
“The media says ‘this is Islam, look, they are violent people,’” Maqbool said of the coverage of the attacks. “But what happened on September 11th was an abomination. The point of Islam is to live your life in an upright and just way.”
Sumaya Muraywid, a 2003 MU master’s graduate, was born and raised in Mexico, Mo. She spoke to the crowd next.
“The only other Muslim in school was my older sister,” she said.
Muraywid said people at school knew she was unique because she didn’t participate in the Christmas program or celebrate Easter.
“It is weird when people think I am a foreigner, because I have only one home,” she said. “I told everyone who has asked me a question that I prefer them to ask, instead of going on what they think or heard.”
Nigerian-born Muslim Ibrahim Khaleel, who has participated in many discussions on Islam, told the audience that the forum taking place that night was important because there is an abundance of misinformation.
Khaleel, Nabila Khaleel’s father, said he is thankful for the Islamic Center of Central Missouri.
“It is not just a place to pray, it is our home,” he said. “There, I am looked at as a Muslim first and then maybe as a Nigerian and so on.”
Waheedah Bilal, an African-American who was the event’s final speaker, said she came to Islam because she was from a socially conscious family. “I wanted to make change everywhere,” she said.
Bilal said raising her family in America made her realize she needed to become more available to educate others about Islam.
“I had to get proactive in speaking about my religion,” she said. “I had to make sure my child was taken care of and had to speak to non-Muslim teachers. I had to explain to them that he needed to pray, that he couldn’t eat pork and so on.”
After the presentation, the audience was invited to ask the panelists questions.
Omar Waheed, an MU sophomore who attended the discussion, said afterward that Islam Awareness Week serves an important function to the MU community.
“There are a lot of people that might not know what Islam is about or maybe they want to know more,” Waheed said. “I believe this will be good for them to help those people answer their questions.”