Did you know that the world "Islam" means submitting to the will of God and that being "Muslim" means submitting yourself to God? Children's Express learned these thing and more as we interviewed three Muslim teenagers, Hafsa Abdul Hakim, 13, Samira Karim, 13 and Abdul-Quawiy Abdul-Karim, 16, at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem about their religion and how they dealt with the existing stereotypes about Muslims today.
CE: How would your life be different if you weren't Muslim?
Abdul: I wouldn't be as well-rounded and knowledgeable a person as I am because Islam exposes you to many different ways of thinking. It is a very peaceful religion.
CE: What is the basic principle or belief in your religion that you follow?
Abdul: We have the five pillars of Islam that all Muslims live by. There is only one God and his name is Allah over the month of Ramadhan which is the holy month.
CE: Have you ever encountered any problems with people making stereotypical comments at you?
Abdul: You always get that type of ignorance from people who don't know anything about the religion. When I was really young, I was getting these weird looks from people and it made me feel bad, but I've always had the support of my family and the community to counter that. Now that I'm older, the teachers and kids understand more. The teachers don't make me say the Pledge of Allegiance anymore so it's gotten a lot easier.
However, there are still too many stereotypes going around in my school, a private school that's supposed to be open. They still have that stereotype in their head that I'm going to be rowdy and disrespectful. But being Muslim means I'm polite and humble. I'm like the first Muslim that they have seen so I try to make the best impression I can.
CE: Is it hard to live in a society where everybody doesn't dress like you and where people will not understand why you look the way you do?
Samira: The kimar (religious garb worn by Muslims) is basically for modesty. We're supposed to cover our hair and bodies. It doesn't bother me because I've been wearing it all of my life.
CE: People associate terrorists with Muslims. How do you feel about that?
Hafsa: A lot of people say that they're doing it for Allah, but Allah doesn't teach that. Allah doesn't teach you to kill innocent people needlessly. That's not the teaching of Islam. So I think those people are going outside of the borders and doing their own thing. A lot of Muslims don't associate themselves with those people.
CE: Is there anything that you can't do because of your religion that you wish you could do?
Samira: Most of the things that religion tells you not to do you shouldn't do in the first place. People shouldn't feel any sympathy for me because I'm not able to wear short skirts. A woman isn't beautiful because she shows more of her body or has longer hair. It's the person you are inside. You find her beauty before you see it. Of course, it's important to be a physically attractive person. But it's not a main focus.
CE: Do you laugh along with comedy that makes fun of Muslims or does it offend you?
Samira: I'm secure enough about myself to be open to new ideas. If it's funny, I'll laugh.
CE: There are different sets of rules for men and women in your society. Do you feel that this is an inequality or a necessity for survival?
Hafsa: Men are allowed to do what women are not and vice-versa. It's true that in other countries women aren't allowed to walk down the street without a male relative. But some Muslims are extremists because they go to the extent of beating and killing one another over that. And that's not Islam.
In fact, that's contradicting Islam to the utmost. Islam teaches you to be self-reliant. You do what you're supposed to do. Then you try and help your family do what they're supposed to do. And once you're done with that, then you move on to the community. And if someone disagrees and says, "I don't want to do this and I want to leave," then you show them the door. You can't penalize a woman for not covering her hair or for not dressing a certain way because you think it's wrong. It's not your choice. It's Allah's choice.
CE: It seems like having a very close knit family is part of your religion. Is that the case?
Samira: I think it is due to our religion. Because I think that just makes our family even closer than it already is. Islam teaches you a lot about togetherness. Not only with your family, but with the community as well.
CE: Why do you think Islam has spread so widely over the years?
Abdul: I think a lot of people have accepted Islam because of the support that it gives and also because of its beauty. Islam is all about peace. Drop your stereotypes and don't believe the hype you see on television. I encourage learning by asking questions.