Muslim students bust misconceptions at Davies

Muslim students bust misconceptions at Davies

Holding traditional prayer rugs after participating in a panel discussion on Islam are Davies High School juniors Adja-Marie Diop, Mamefatou Cissoko, and Ameena Nadeem, social studies teacher Kristin Cassarino, and juniors Umar Baig and Ahmed Awad. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)

LINCOLN – Adja-Marie Diop holds up a string of Muslim prayer beads, running the chain through her fingers as she explains their use to a group of freshmen at Davies Career & Technical High School.

Similar to the Christian rosary, the beads are traditionally used to count prayers in Islam, she said, sharing one of many examples of the similarities between Islam and other major religions

Diop and other juniors at Davies participated in a discussion about Islam on Feb. 6 and 7, presenting to a group of students in Kristin Cassarino’s Western Civilization class.

After learning about Judaism and Christianity, Cassarino’s students were introduced to Islam. She said her students are usually surprised to learn that Islam is the world’s second-largest religious group after Christianity.

The Muslim student panel clarified a variety of misconceptions about their religion and answered questions about their beliefs.

Mamefatou Cissoko said one of the biggest misconceptions is that Muslims are violent.

“When I was young I asked my parents why my dad doesn’t drink. My mother said the purpose of our beliefs is to be peaceful and treat people with respect. What you see on the news about Muslims being violent isn’t accurate,” she said.

“People think (Islam) is about terrorizing people. No Muslim would ever think about harming others. To be a true Muslim is to be a peaceful and forgiving person.”

Many Muslims do not even kill spiders, she said, because there’s a story in the Quran about a spider that saves a prophet. “We wouldn’t even hurt insects, what makes people think we’d hurt other people?” Cissoko asked.

Another common misconception is that female-identifying Muslims are forced by men to wear a hijab head covering.

“It’s my choice whether or not to cover my hair,” explained Ameena Nadeem. “I will wear a hijab when I am fully devoted to Islam, as once you start you cannot stop. One of my sisters wears one, but another doesn’t … it’s by choice, and it’s not forced on us.”

Cissoko said, like Nadeem, she doesn’t feel ready to wear one yet. “I’m devoted to Islam – I pray and participate – but the hijab is another step.”

Diop said no one in her family wears one unless it’s a religious holiday. “I choose not to because nobody forced it on me,” she said.

Cassarino explained that there’s “sometimes confusion where people think men are forcing women to wear the hijab and cover their bodies. The reality is that it is empowering, in that you’re saying: I don’t need to show my body and hair to get respect.”

Cassarino, who is the district Teacher of the Year, said her students were eager to learn from their peers on the panel, and usually walked away from the discussion with a feeling that “we’re more alike than we are different.”

The panelists took the opportunity to share some of their traditions and explained the use of the prayer rug, including how to identify the top of the rug, and how they use modern technology like smartphone applications to notify them when it’s time to pray. The apps even come equipped with a compass, so the mat can be placed facing Mecca.

Muslims traditionally pray five times daily, and the panelists said Davies has been very accommodating by providing students with a quiet place to pray during the school day.

During Ramadan when Muslim students are fasting, Director Adam Flynn-Tabloff allows students to spend their lunch period in his office so they aren’t around students eating.

The panelists taught students about celebrating Ramadan, described some of their favorite traditional foods and shared stories about growing up Muslim.

All in all, Cassarino said the 7th annual Muslim student panel was an incredible success, creating a unique opportunity for discourse among Davies students.

“I am blown away by the upperclassmen students for having the courage to share personal stories, willingness to answer questions, and for their desire to promote the idea of a Davies community where we all can learn from, grow with and respect each other. They are true examples for all of us: young and old,” Cassarino said.

“I am also very impressed by the 9th-grade students who engaged in true civil discourse. Their maturity, curiosity, and respect was a true representation of who they are as a whole.”