A lesson on Islam: Tennessee Valley Muslims debunk stereotypes

Many Americans know little about Islam, the world's fastest-growing faith

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. That's one out of every five people on earth.

Students at the Islamic Academy Of Huntsville are an example of how diverse Muslims are. "Pre-K through grade six and they represent 16 different countries," said principal Marilyn Lewis-Alim.

Islam is the world's fastest-growing major faith, but many Americans know little about it. According to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute, six out of 10 Americans have never had a conversation with a Muslim.

"Islam is a very easy definition for everybody, this word is derived from 'surrender' from the Arabic root 'Silema' or which means to surrender to the will of God and obey his commands," explained Ragab Abdalmoneim, Imam at Huntsville Islamic Center.

There are different branches of Islam, Sunnis and Shiites being the main ones, just as Catholics and Protestants are two subgroups within Christianity. Each has its own interpretation of the Quran.

"It has verses that show what our God wants us to do and some of the stories that you might have too, in the Bible if you were a Christian or like if you were Jewish you might have it in the Torah," said sixth-grader Areej Gouda.

There are five pillars of Islam. "The belief in one God and then prayer, Muslims pray five times a day those are dedicated prayers required, then you have charity which is given to the poor, then you have fasting which Muslims do once a year during the month of Ramadan from sunrise to sunset, then you have Hajj which is a pilgrimage to the Kaaba which is in Mecca in Saudi Arabia," said Deborah Abu-Alrub, director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Alabama.

Ragab Abdalmoneim is the Imam at the Huntsville Islamic Center. An Imam is like a pastor. He leads prayer at the mosque."We are praying for many purposes, number one to be in touch and in connection with God and to remember him all the time, also purification for our souls."

The Quran asks women to cover their hair as a sign of modesty. "Modesty, yes, it is about dress but it's also about speech and it's about action and it's not just directed at women. Men have to maintain a certain aspect of modesty in their dress and their behavior," said Abu-Alrub.

A recent study by Pew Research found Americans believe Islam is more likely to encourage violence among its believers than other religions.

"In the Quran, there are multiple verses about the sanctity of life. One verse says that the killing of one innocent life is as if you killed all of humankind, so anything that is depicted or claim to be done under the name of Islam and it's violent and it takes the life of innocent it is completely wrong and it goes against the teachings of Islam," Abu-Alrub explained.

Pew Research also found that half of Muslim Americans say it has become harder to be Muslim in the U.S. in recent years.

"There are children here with grandparents, and cousins, and aunts and uncles in countries on the travel ban list, so neither can they go home, nor can their relatives come visit and that's pretty hard for children to understand it really is," expressed Lewis-Alim.

Muslims say they are proud Americans and believe in the American dream as much as anyone else.

"We want a safe school, we want our children to be healthy, happy and we want to get along with our neighbors,” said Abu-Alrub.

"So what I want to say for the American community please hear and listen from us, don't listen about us," Abdalmoneim added.

Abdalmoneim said the Huntsville Islamic Center is open to people of all religions to come and pray, or just to come and get to know your Muslim neighbors. 


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