Speaking to a “packed library,” four women discussed Islam, how it is understood currently in the US, and how they understand it personally, as a cultural, spiritual, and everyday part of their lives. Zari Hedayat, AULA affiliate faculty, is a Muslim Iranian, Layla Jillhood, AULA affiliate faculty, is an Iraqi Muslim, Huda Bayaa is a graduate student in psychology and a Palestinian Muslim, and Lana Istwani is a Syrian Muslim. Last spring, the Diversity Committee of AULA sponsored a discussion by Jihad Turk, Chair of Islamic Studies at Claremont University, who talked about the history of Islam and briefly addressed concerns about Daesh (known as ISIS). The four women picked up the conversation but where Mr. Turk spoke about the history of Islam, the women spoke about their daily lives as Muslims.
Despite cultural and linguistic differences, these women were united in their appeal that, like other religions, Islam promotes peace and intellectual discourse, and offers a way of understanding and moving through the world that inspires all four of them to be better at being human. Addressing what it is to be Muslim in a country where being Muslim is increasingly suspect, the women expressed fears of being targeted for their faith but instead of stepping back they are compelled to step forward and entreat people to learn about the Islamic faith, understand that its tenets are akin to those in the Judeo Christian faiths, and that those who would abuse the Islamic religion in order to move a violent agenda forward are not true representatives of their faith. The largely student crowd also included faculty, staff and visitors to Antioch; they asked the presenters a range of questions and all enjoyed a dynamic and thought-provoking conversation.
At the end of the evening, Huda Bayaa implored the audience to take the women’s message of peace forward, to engage others in this dialog about Islam, and to challenge the misinformation that permeates our understanding of a religion that is valued and shared by billions of people across the globe.