Frequently asked questions about Islam

By Hanifati Mokhammad, 18, Pacific Coast HS
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Hanifati says people should try to learn about religions instead of basing what they know on assumptions.

I wear a hijab (pronounced he-jab), which is a scarf that covers my hair and neck. Sometimes when I’m at the mall or the grocery store I think people are staring at me, but when I turn toward them they look away.

I wear a hijab because I’m Muslim. In the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book, it states that women should wear head covers to be protected and be known as a Muslim. When I started wearing it in high school it wasn’t a hard decision because my mom wears one and my friends wear them. I wanted to wear a hijab in middle school, but my mom asked me if I was ready to face questions from my classmates. I got a little nervous so I decided to wait until high school. When I started wearing my hijab, no one asked me questions about it since some other students were Muslim and wore hijabs too. 

People who don’t understand my religion think Muslim women wear head scarves when they go outside because men told them to. They think Muslim women are oppressed but we’re not. We’re allowed to get an education and have a career, we’re allowed to have property and own a business—anything that men can do.

I was born in America. I’m not that different from anyone else in the United States. I like to write stories, draw pictures, go out with friends and chat with friends online. It bothers me that people look at me and what happened on Sept. 11, 2001 runs through their minds. When they stare at me and look away I get paranoid. What are you thinking? I don’t think people know a lot about Islam, since their only knowledge about it is from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and a lot of the stories on the news make Islam look bad. To some people Islam is a religion of hate and terror, but actually Islam is a peaceful religion. 

At religious school we learned to be respectful

Islam is not just my religion but it’s also my way of life. Ever since I was little my parents thought it was important to teach me about Islam and who I am as a Muslim girl. When I was in kindergarten, I started going to the Al-Noor Islamic center for religious school on the weekends. We read the Qur’an and learned about the prophets. There’s a hadith (saying from the prophet) that says Paradise lies under your mother’s feet. We learned that you have to be respectful to her and also your father. At the end we’d say our prayers and then we’d go home.

Prayer is one of the five pillars, or basic acts, of Islam. Muslims pray five times a day, every day, at dawn, early afternoon, late afternoon, evening and night. In elementary and middle school I’d come home from school and pray. In high school it got easier because I go to an online school and I’m at home a lot. The importance of prayer is to remind us that God is forgiving and always there for us. I pray for regular things like for someone to be healthy and for forgiveness of my sins.

Another pillar of Islam is charity. I try to be nice to people and give money to the poor. When I was in seventh grade I wanted to give all the money I had in my wallet to the homeless on the streets when I was visiting my relatives in Indonesia. There were so many people there who were poor; my heart was breaking so much.

I was 7 when 9/11 happened. My mom didn’t tell me about it because I was too young to understand. In middle school I learned more about it at youth group. I was told that Muslims hijacked planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York. I was thinking, “Why did they do this?” They were saying they were Muslim but they shouldn’t call themselves Muslims. There’s nothing in the Qur’an that says to attack a country. They did it because they had a problem with America, but disliking America has nothing to do with being Muslim. They were making Islam look bad. A lot of Muslims were born here, or came here to have a better life. My parents came here from Indonesia because they wanted their kids to have a good education and to be able to find a good job. 

When I was in science class in eighth grade I heard a comment that bothered me. I was sitting next to a girl who was talking to a boy about the presidential election. He said he didn’t want to support Obama because he might be Muslim. I had read his biography. Obama used to live in Indonesia, which has a large Muslim population, and his middle name, Hussein, is Arabic but he’s not Muslim. I was angry that he was implying that he couldn’t trust Obama because he was Muslim. I said, “He’s not a Muslim. He just has a name that sounds like it.” He stared at me and then he kept talking and changed the topic. 

During the summer before ninth grade my mom and I had to go to Narbonne High to talk to an administrator about switching to Pacific Coast High School, which is where I’m going now. When we were walking in the hallway, we passed two students and one of them said “Welcome to America” loudly and sarcastically. He probably said it because of our head scarves and because my mom was wearing Indonesian clothing. My mom sounded upset. She said to me, “You were born in America. There’s no reason for you to be told ‘Welcome to America.’” 

We ignored him and went inside the office. As we waited, a woman came in with the boy, telling him to apologize to us. He said, “I’m sorry for saying that.” I was surprised, but my mom smiled and said it was OK. She let it go after he left. 

In 11th grade, on the day of the 9/11 anniversary, I went to Yahoo! and saw the headline “Qur’an burning” and clicked on it. The article said that a Florida pastor named Terry Jones decided to make it “International Burn a Qur’an Day.” It scared me to think that someone would be that intolerant toward Islam, which he called “the religion of the devil.” What he started was stupid and cruel. It’s not free speech, it’s more like a hate crime against Islam and the Muslim world. 

I talked about Jones with my mom and friends who are Muslim. We wondered why he would burn the Qur’an when it has stories and teachings about all the prophets Christians and Jews believe in, like Adam, Abraham and Moses, about Jesus’s mother being surprised to have a child, and all those other stories. 

All faiths should be welcome in America

It upsets me that he was using the anniversary of Sept. 11 for “revenge” against Islam. Even more frightening, the pastor forgot about religious freedom in this country. The United States is not a Christian country; it’s a country where you can practice any religion: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. 

Some people have something nice to say. When I was in the hospital in middle school, this woman was talking to us in the elevator. She said she was married to a man from the Middle East. She said she respects our religion although she’s not Muslim. 

I want people to respect each other and learn about Islam and question if what you hear about it is correct. Some mosques (Islamic church or temple) hold interfaith services for people who are not Muslim and they explain what it is really about. They just teach, they’re not trying to convert anyone to Islam. 

Recently when my mom and dad told me there was an anti-Islam movie made by someone who lives in America, I wondered why someone would do that. I didn’t understand why he would twist the truth and make people angry. The movie called the Prophet Muhammad a fraud, a womanizer and many insulting things that aren’t true. The movie misinterprets what Islam is and what the Prophet is like. But then I heard that there were violent protests in the Middle East and people have been killed, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Protesting and saying “no, you cannot disrespect our prophet” is good but the violence went too far. I got an email from the organization Celebrate Mercy about how they were starting a letter-writing campaign to show people we’re sorry about what happened. They were asking people to send letters to the ambassador’s family to show that Muslims are not violent and Islam is peaceful. I hope it helps people see how Muslims really are.