Muslim life in America, seen through the eyes of international student

It’s around noon. Most students can be found dining at Hardy or transferring between classes. Graduate student Sara Yasmeen is in her room, kneeling on the floor, forearms, nose, and palms touching the ground.

It’s time for Zohar, and as a devout Muslim, Yasmeen must participate in the second prayer of the day.

“We have to follow the rules of religion in Islam and try to do the things which were done by (Muhammad),” she said.

Yasmeen is from India and moved here to pursue her Master of science in information systems, bringing her Islamic culture with her.

“I’m the only girl who follows Islam at UMHB, but I’ve never felt like I was the only (Muslim) person here,” she said.

Being Muslim in America, even in the predominately Christian area of central Texas, has not been a problem.

“Christian people are very good with everyone. I’m not dominated by anyone, and no one has asked me like ‘You are not of our culture?’” Yasmeen said.

Her physical appearance is the only visible trait that shows she follows Islam. Yasmeen wears a hijab, the traditional head covering worn by many Muslim women, any time she is out in public.

This article is part two of a three part series.

This article is the second in a three-part series.

“When I take my hijab off, maybe my look may be different with my hair down and stuff. It maybe makes me look more pretty than what I do now,” Yasmeen said, “By wearing this we are not attracting any men. It’s more decent and respectful.”

In addition to the dress of devout Muslims, Yasmeen sticks to the prayer schedule as well, no matter what else is going on at that time. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan occurred while she was doing contract work for a company as part of a six-month internship.

Her religion was accommodated though.

“They allotted me a different cabin … so I could go there and pray,” she said.

Yasmeen’s professors also respect her religion.

She said, “In school, one of my prayer times was in my class time, so I asked permission from my professor for five minutes, and I just walked out, prayed and came back.”

When she first moved to America, Yasmeen wasn’t sure how she would find a religious community that held the same beliefs as she did, but it turned out not to be a problem.

While shopping in Wal-Mart she met, “a family who also believed Islamic culture. They helped me by taking me to mosque and giving me rides. That is how I came to the mosque in Temple.”

Yasmeen believes that most of the tensions between American life and Islam are caused by a lack of information.

“People don’t have proper knowledge about Islam. My duty is to tell good things about Islam. Actually there are no bad things about Islam, so the way you tell people, they will know it in that way,” she said.

Fortunately for Yasmeen, the transition and adaptation to American life was smooth, but for other Muslims, that blending of two cultures is not so easy.

Karen Morrow is a missionary with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship who serves Islamic refugees in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area.

She works to help the newcomers adapt to life in America and be able to live on their own.

“Culturally there are clashes when it comes to women, the treatment of women, freedom that women might have within our society or not have,” Morrow said.

The major clashes are not with the parents or grandparents, but the younger generation whose life is being shaped by both Islamic culture at home and American life in places like school.

“They are exposed to things that perhaps they werenot exposed to in their former culture, and it presents a lot of problems within the family unit because what was appropriate and what is appropriate is different,” Morrow said, “Their cultural values are challenged.”

Morrow sees this struggle often.

“It makes the adjustment a little more difficult,” she said. She has also noticed that when Muslims come to America, they tend to congregate according to the regions of the world they are from.

“A lot of times they come as nominal Muslims and become more devoted to their faith because they find that community and that support within the Islamic culture,” Morrow said.

Afshin Ziafat knows what living as a Muslim in America is like because, like Yasmeen, he experienced the culture firsthand.

Ziafat grew up in a Muslim family but converted to Christianity as a teenager.

Though he no longer practices Islam, his family still does, and the practices are something he will never forget.

The tensions between Islam and America are actually tensions that arise because of religious identity, not between countries, Ziafat said.

“Most Muslims view America as synonymous with Christianity, which is a misperception, and most Christians see the struggle with Islam as being a struggle between America and Islam.”

As Morrow pointed out, Islam is interpreted differently in every country, something that Ziafat has experienced.

He said, “For instance, the culture in Turkey will be vastly different from the culture in Iran.”

Though differences in interpretation exist and Muslims in America may congregate accordingly, the basic principles held by Muslims are the same throughout the world.

Yasmeen chooses to focus on this instead of other people who follow what she considers a distorted practice of Islam.

“Sometimes people think ‘I am following Islam so I need to kill people and do this’ but it’s just their foolishness. That’s not from anywhere in Islam, that you have to kill someone or do any harm. You are not supposed to do any harm to any people,” she said.

She chooses to follow the teachings of Muhammad — teachings about peace, devotion and kindness, with hope of a reward at the end.

Yasmeen said, “Whatever I do is already listed near Allah. He’ll note everything. If he feels it is good, then I will be rewarded.”

Author: Brittany Montgomery

Bio info coming soon!

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