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Muslim Students Lift The Veil of Oppression

By: Journalism I Students

Posted: 3/28/08

"Poor thing, she's so oppressed."

This is the sentiment that Najia Kurdi says she often feels from Americans when they see her walking down the street.

Kurdi was the first speaker of the night at the Muslim Student Association's conference on Thursday, March 20, titled "Unveiling the Veiled."

The event, co-hosted by Diversity Fellowship, was intended to educate students, according to MSA President Dania Al-deen.

"The reality that the media portrays about Muslim women is not correct. The presentation is trying to clarify that misconception," she said.

Kurdi, a graduate of USF with a double major in sign language and biology, and Pilar Saad, a teacher at the Universal Academy of Florida, were the night's two speakers.

Together, Kurdi and Saad attempted to accurately portray the status of the Muslim woman. MSA feels that the media often misconstrues Muslim women and portrays them as being oppressed.

According to Kurdi and Saad, the reality of women in Islam is quite different.

They said that it is recommended, not forced, that women wear the hijab (headscarf) for the sole purpose of modesty.

The Muslim faith prides itself in the level of modesty and dignity that no other religious group has and feels that it is important to keep this way of life sacred.

Muslims see wearing long clothing, only unveiling their face and hands, as a sign of protection and modesty for women. It is felt that external modesty helps women in seeking internal peace with god.

Kurdi called the hijab "a badge of honor and respect," while Saad, a convert from Catholicism, explained that "I found my liberation as a woman in Islam."

Some students described the event as an informative and enlightening experience.

"I was so surprised by some of the answers," said Jordan Milewski, an audience member and participant in the game "Who Wants to Be a Muslimaire" that kicked off the event with trivia about women's roles in Islam.

"I had no idea Muslim women had so much freedom. For some reason, I always thought they were oppressed by their government," Milewski said.

Junior Sierra Mims agreed. "The Muslim women discussion really helped to open my eyes and see how Americans view these women versus how Islam views women. I never knew that Muslim women had so many rights, or why they wore the hijab. At least now I understand the status of Muslim women. It was an eye opening experience," she said.

Others disagreed.

"I am very proud of my American culture," said junior Melissa Small, "and I felt they did not support it. It seemed they didn't approve of the way American girls dress, date, or express themselves. Do they see anything positive about our culture?"

The event ended with an open discussion between these different points of view that lasted for over an hour and featured many interesting questions.

One student asked about the courtship ritual in Islam and when a woman was permitted her first kiss.

The panel replied that the dating process is more formal and traditional in Islam and it was not until marriage when a woman could experience her first kiss.

The curious audience continued asking questions well into the night when the moderator finally called the program to a close.

Much of the discussion centered on the title of the conference, namely the use of the veil for women in Islam.

It is here where Pilar Saad utilized humor to score the final point. "You don't know just how liberating it is to have a bad hair day everyday and it doesn't matter," she laughed.

Cassandra Clark, Kristine Kodytek, Erika Ginzl, Sierra Mims, Maggie Welch, Adrian Canillo and Cameron Razi contributed to this article.


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