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Posted: April 23, 2013 8:39 p.m.

Muslim student hopes to dispel stereotypes

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Hana Ahmed made a pilgrimage to Mecca recently.

College is a time of transition, a time for students to begin to figure out who they are and what their place is in the world. But as impactful as higher education is, it is not the only thing that can make such a difference in students’ lives. For Oxford College sophomore Hana Ahmed, there was another significant journey recently: her pilgrimage to Mecca, an important religious journey for Muslims.

The pilgrimage to Mecca is one of five pillars that Muslims must follow and practice. The others are belief in only Allah (God), worship (prayer five times a day), charitable giving and fasting during the month of Ramadan.

Ahmed went to Saudi Arabia over spring break for Umrah, sometimes called the “lesser pilgrimage” because it is far less intense than the Hajj. Umrah can be done at any time during the year, whereas Hajj can only be done at a specific time.

During Ahmed’s trip, she performed religious rituals such as circling the Kabah seven times while praying and running through the hills of Safa and Marwa. And while she spent most of her time in Mecca and Medina in mosques and at religious sites, she also got to do some shopping.

Ahmed, who is originally Pakistani, said her trip to Saudi Arabia really put in perspective the differences between America and Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia.

“Certain things that I would think twice about doing in America were not issues when I was in Mecca, because anti-Islamic views are obviously not there. My parents’ accents weren’t questioned and looked at suspiciously. The fact that my last name was Ahmed was not cause for alarm. I could wear a headscarf and not get eyed by strangers.

“Being religious in America is hard because of the obvious ‘Islamophobia’ that has become commonplace,” Ahmed said.

“I think Islamophobia has gotten worse with time since 9/11 due to reckless rhetoric on the news, etc. Hopefully it will lessen soon,” she added. “When people I know question and even deny that Islamophobia is a thing, I tell them to listen to news reports that speak stereotypically of Muslims and replace ‘Muslim’ with any other religion or race. It immediately sounds so much worse, because we as a society have become accustomed to calling out certain ‘-isms.’ ‘Oh, that’s racist/sexist/anti-Semitic’ etc. People may argue that because Islam is not a race, it is not possible to be racist against Muslims.”

“However, Islam has become incorrectly synonymous with a Middle- Eastern brown-cloaked/bearded person and essentially radicalized, which is why we keep hearing about Hindus and Sikhs, who fit the physical description of a ‘Muslim’ getting assaulted,’’ said Ahmed. If you tell someone to imagine what a Muslim looks like, they will most likely think up someone like Osama bin Laden, whereas the largest population of Muslims are Indonesian and look nothing like the shallow images that media outlets have beaten into everyone’s head.”

Unfortunately, this prejudice continues due to the few radical Muslims who get displayed all over the news.

It is important to realize that they are only a minority and do not represent the majority of Muslims. Islam, like Christianity, is made up of many different variations and people. Each Muslim society is different in its own respect and should not be judged as the same in any way.

Because Oxford College is so diverse, it serves as a great opportunity for students to learn more about other cultures and religions, to combat such prejudices. At Oxford, students gain a better understanding of the outside world and its people.

Ahmed is studying biology at Emory and hopes to become a physician. Her dream job is to be an ovarian oncologist.

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