Islam in Iowa: Clearing up misconceptions - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Islam in Iowa: Clearing up misconceptions

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

There are more than 5,000 Muslims in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area alone. Dr. Mohammed Fahmy is one of them.

He is an active member of the Muslim community and has been working as a professor at the University of Northern Iowa for 30 years.

"From its meaning from the word Islam comes Salaam," Fahmy said. "Salaam is Shalom -- that means peace."

But peace is not a word that many associate with the religion.

Dr. Fahmy believes that images of violence, terrorism and hatred have fueled a shift of the entire idea of what Islam really is and what Muslims really believe.

"Some people say, 'Are you Muslim first, or American first?' And I say, 'I am an American Muslim,'" Fahmy said. "It doesn't matter. I'm a person who has chosen to be an American. I live in this country. I defend this country."

One of the biggest misconceptions about Islam is the role of women.

"I have studied Islam for myself. I read a lot of Koran, and I just find that Islam elevated the status of women," Salma Akbar, a practicing Muslim woman, said. "Fourteen centuries ago, the Prophet came and he liberated them from those practices.

"People used to bury their daughters alive, and this is a religion that came and said if you raise your daughter well, you will go to Heaven," Akbar added. "I think Prophet Muhammad was the first feminist."

According to Muslims, Islamic women had many rights far before other religions.

"Islam came and gave the women the right to inherit right away," Fahmy said. "They have the right to vote, they have the right to become business people."

Muslim women agree.

"My power comes from my religion." Akbar said. "My religion has given me a sense of self-worth, like I am my own person."

Zeeni Afridi has been in Iowa for 40 years. She said the headscarf many Muslim women wear is not required anywhere in the religion, but it is instead worn by some women as a sign of respect.

 "I would call myself a modern Muslim woman," said Afridi. "I don't hold back and I don't walk ten feet behind my husband … We are equal partners."

Equality and respect are two things these Muslims say need to be present to clear up current misconceptions.

"Let us take our bias out. Let us take any iota of hatred out," Fahmy said. "I accept people who do not believe in Islam, but they shouldn't hate it."

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