There are sides we don’t usually see — maybe it’s because the media paints a different picture, or maybe it’s because we simply just don’t venture into each others’ worlds. On this Friday afternoon, we found four high school students after their jummah prayer for an interview.
تعزيز إيمان طفلك
According to the Quran, instilling a faith in Allah and Islamic morals into children is one of the primary guidelines for parenthood.
Fatima Khan, a Muslim mother who attends the mosque of the West Valley Muslim Association, has tried to do just this as a Muslim mother. She explains that the Islamic faith has provided a community for her family.
“Immigrant families come here from other countries, and they don’t have extended family or support,” Khan said. “You kind of build that wall of community for your children. You can make aunts and uncles instead of just strangers all around you.”
Sixth-grader Jannah Hussaini regularly attends West Valley during prayer time on Fridays, spending the remainder of the evening in Islamic youth teachings.
“Every Friday, all the kids have a chance to reunite with their faith and because especially with school, we don’t have much time to remember it,” Hussaini said. “Every Friday, it’s like we get that time to learn about our faith and just be together with other Muslims.”
In addition, community member Yasmin Khafagy has made an effort to surround her children with an Islamic environment. Attending prayers, holiday celebrations and embedding Islamic teachings into family life are some of the ways Khafagy does this for her children. Additionally, she sends them to Sunday school so they can study the Quran and Arabic.
“I want them to feel safe, confident and proud of their religion,” Khafagy said. “I teach them about Islam at home, and then I send them to the Sunday school. On Fridays, we come to prayer and then [they attend] a lecture for their age. I’m always open for the questions that they asked about anything and I always encourage them that I want them to treat everyone wonderful[ly].”
For Khafagy, it is important that her children believe in and appreciate the Prophets mentioned in the Quran. She believes that without participating with her kids at the Mosque or putting them in Sunday school, they may lose their faith.
“One of the main things about Islam that I teach my kids is if you don’t believe in all the prophets, there is something wrong,” Khafagy said. “This is one of the main important thing in Islam. So if you don’t believe in all books and all Prophets, this is one of the big issues in Islam.”
Agreeing with Khafagy, Khan too has her children attend the youth leaders’ classes after prayers. She explains that with the constant presence of a Muslim community in her family’s lives, raising her children wasn’t hard. The Quran’s guidelines and lessons for children and parents to follow significantly helped her raise her kids in an upright manner and instill moral in them.
“Our Creator has done most of the parenting job for us — we just have to kind of answer a few questions here and there,” Khan said. “I know as long as I’m a nurturing mother and I’m a friend to my children, and I can explain, and I can handle myself with logic, I think there shouldn’t be any issue raising them for anything at all for that matter, but I have to do it in the right way.”
However, Khan explains that she has noticed an inaccuracy in Islamic history education. When her daughter attended Kennedy MS, Khan immediately noticed that Islamic history and the Muslim faith were being misrepresented, and the curriculum was not completely accurate.
“I definitely would like to have more awareness about Islam and every kind of religion,” Khan said. “We need to learn about different people. We need to learn about what’s going on in [all] communities. We’re more same — we’re more alike than we are different.”
With about 1,200 students attending KMS, Hussaini says many Muslim students mask their Muslim identity, fearing ostracization and judgment from their peers.
“A lot of the Muslim kids are afraid to say they’re Muslim,” Hussaini said. “[This is] mostly because of all the news. They’re afraid of the way their friends will take it, and they just don’t want their friends to know. They just want to be like everyone else. I’m the opposite. I like my faith, and I’m proud of it.”
9/11 was a day that rocked the U.S. and introduced an entirely unrivaled level of destruction — significantly altering America’s perception of Muslims. For Ahmad Torjamam, a member of the West Valley Muslim Association who was living in Orange County, Southern California, at the time, it was the day Muslims across the nation began to question their position in the country.
It was the day, as Torjamam recalls, uncertainty bridled the atmosphere — with one of his uncles claiming that the government would now attempt to throw Muslims into internment camps, just as it had done with Japanese-Americans following the Pearl Harbor bombing. Torjamam repeats his uncle’s words with a smile, laughing at the absurdity of this claim.
But the message stands — following 9/11, Islamophobia swept through the nation, and Muslims, practicing or not, were cast away as the “other,” labeled by the media as people with un-American intentions.
Although 18 years have passed since 9/11, not much has changed, at least in the media’s representation of Islam. In fact, Torjamam believes that extreme Islamophobia is still rooted in the media, which he notices often antagonizes Islam by allowing the acts of terrorists to define the religion. He hopes Muslims across the nation will continue to rally to counter the attack on Islam across the nation.
“I think society is very affected by the media,” Torjamam said. “Unless they are in contact with Muslims, they won’t see a full, balanced picture. I encourage all [Muslims] to reach out, be more active; to not conceal their identity, to be Muslim and educate the rest of the people on what they believe in. Remove any misconceptions about terrorism related to Islam — everything you see in the media.”
Community member Khazi agrees that Islam is often defaced or judged based on the actions of a radical minority. While it is true that people around the world have committed acts of violence in the name of Islam, Khazi reminds individuals that those who justify these actions based on the tenets of Islam are absolutely wrong to do so. Nowhere in the Quran does Islam condone violence; in fact, Khazi states that it encourages people to be the best version of themselves.
Senior Hassham Malik laments on this fact further, claiming that there’s a double standard when it comes to acts of violence committed by a Muslim person and a white person, and that this double standard is reflective of society’s lack of knowledge on Islam and its tenets.
“Islam teaches [its followers] to be loyal to Allah,” Malik said. “What the media portrays is bad people doing bad things, and then justifying it [by saying], ‘I’m doing it for Islam.’ But there’s no reason to do it for Islam — they’re just bad. When a white guy does something, people blame it on a mental disorder, but when a Muslim guy does it, they blame it on terrorism.”
This lack of understanding further manifests itself in the public’s reception of haya, the Islamic practice whereby Muslim women don concealing clothing and headscarves for modesty and protection. Community member Yasmin Khafagy, who wears the hijab, (a headscarf) recounts how throughout her life, she’s had people assume that she was forced to wear her headscarf and that it chains her to her religion and gender in some respects. But to Khafagy, this is simply not true. In her view, observing haya is a form of empowerment, not oppression.
“When I wore my scarf, I did it without anyone telling me and my
parents were like, ‘Are you sure you want to do it now?’” Khafagy said. “But I felt happy and I wanted to do it. No one told me I have to wear [the hijab]; maybe some people have that, but not everyone.”
Khafagy knows that her hijab and her faith breed questions, some curious and well-intentioned and others ignorant and distasteful. And yet, she continues wearing her headscarf, showing pride in being a Muslim woman.
Born in Syria to a practicing Muslim family, Torjamam had always felt a close connection to Islam; but after 9/11, he felt as though he had no choice but to even more openly demonstrate his faith in Islam. Unlike some Muslims following the crash of the Twin Towers, he refused to change his name. He continued to bring traditional sweets to his neighbors on Muslim holidays, took time off work to attend daily prayers and openly engaged in conversations with non-Muslims.
Malik explains that like Torjamam, he has stepped into the role of a representative of Islam. He understands that his actions don’t just reflect upon him, but rather on the entire Islamic faith. Rather than viewing this responsibility as a burden, he sees it as an opportunity to show the public the reality of Islam.
“I do feel the responsibility as a Muslim to show people what true Islam is,” Malik said. “I’m basically their view of what a Muslim is so I have to show myself as the nice guy that I am, so that when they think of a Muslim, they think of kindness. I’m representing my religion and everyone is observing.”
Khazi explains that she too views herself as a representative of her faith. She also believes that Muslim people should be appreciative or receptive to any attempts non-Muslims make to understand Islam or spread awareness about it. Although she makes a conscious effort to connect with non-Muslims, Khazi had noticed the way that other Muslim community members are more wary of outsiders due to the media and the national consensus on Islam.
“We see some behaviors in our community that are not so great and we feel that as a community, we have to overcompensate for that,” Khazi said. “People come here with all sorts of backgrounds — some from war-torn conditions. Others have always had to vie for survival, so we see all sorts of behaviors. It’s necessary that we spread the essence of Islam, which is peace and love and gratitude.”
Khazi explains that the discrepancy between Islamic teachings and the political image of Islam is especially difficult for her children to reconcile. She considers this to be her major challenge as a Muslim mother — and community member — to help her children and outsiders understand that Islam is not what is being depicted in politics and the media. Rather, it is a religion of tolerance, and Muslim people are just like any other people. All they want is to practice their religion in peace.
“If I could use this to send out a message, it’s to talk to Muslim people,” Khazi said. “It’s to come and see what we do. There really aren’t any locked doors, there aren’t any secrets, there’s no hidden agenda to convert all of America. We just want to live the best lives that we can.”
We don’t usually do this.
Our job, as student journalists, is simple — report on the story, leave it untouched and retrace back to the comfort of our journalism room.
But there are some stories each year that leave a mark on us. They remind us why we do what we do, why we choose to spend our Fridays’ interviewing people we’ve never met in our lives in places we’ve never been before, why journalism — good journalism, the type that highlights the hidden and most unheard of stories — is worth it.
We walked into the Saratoga Prospect Center on a Friday afternoon not knowing what to expect. We had an idea in mind, yes, but it was loose and it was ill-fitting. We were going to ask the community members about the recent New Zealand shooting, about prejudice and about Islamphobia. In return, we were expecting deep and remorseful answers, responses you’d expect to hear under the current political climate.
And we got those. The people we met, all so passionate and all so eloquent, gave us what we were looking for, but it is the small and surprising things they gave us, the things we hadn’t expected to find, that truly left a mark.
A child hanging off a tree, smiling gleefully as her sister looked on. A large group of boys laughing and joking around with each other. A solemn and serious middle schooler claiming proudly that she’s proud to be who she is, and she wishes that others were like her too. A man finding the silver lining in the aftermath of 9/11 and all other terrible events that have and continue to plague his country. Women, men and children, of all races and all ethnicities, closing their eyes together, chanting their prayers, rejoicing in the fact that they are their own brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, neighbors, and more importantly, united in their faith in Islam.
We came to Saratoga Prospect Center under the assumption that this package, a vibrant collection of stories we gathered from our two visits, would be reflective and depressing.
We were wrong.
Because it is those children we interviewed that day, those men and those women, those high schoolers who continue to brave on, who hold their heads high, who persevere in the face of ignorance and prejudice, that taught us that this — the story of the Muslim people — is not a story of sadness.
It is a story of strength, of happiness and of peace. And it is a story that we, the reporters at El Estoque, were lucky enough to cover.
So to the people of West Valley Muslim Association, we hope we’ve done you justice.