| 03.21.2018

Teaching Tolerance – UI Muslim student panel answers questions about religion and culture


Dina Alsharif, Zachary Lierman, Domenique Costello, Lobna Abdel-Rahim and Ousef Vayomy all come from vastly diverse backgrounds – yet the five students, all members of the University of Idaho Muslim Student Association, have found commonality in their Muslim identity.

The five students were panelists at a fireside chat hosted by the UI Honors Program Tuesday, where about a dozen honors students enjoyed baklava, Moroccan Mint Tea and an open question and answer session about the world”s second-largest religion.

Alsharif was raised in what she described as a non-practicing Egyptian Muslim family, while Abdel-Rahim and Vayomy grew up practicing Islam. Costello said she came from a Christian background, but never quite connected to Jesus. Lierman, also raised Christian, said he grew up with a “tunnel vision” approach to religion, until he came to college and decided to broaden his horizons.

“People perceive things differently,” Alsharif said.

Lierman said many misconceptions come from the fact that when looking at the faith from the outside in, people often take parts out of context. He said many Islamic teachings and practices only make sense when looked at from a culturally relative view.

Alsharif also said Islam can be as diverse as the people who practice it, varying from culture to culture. She said Egypt is just one Middle Eastern country that often doesn”t operate with traditional Islamic values. She said while a vast majority of the population there is Muslim, the country has had rampant corruption as well as other issues that do not line up with Muslim ideals.

Alsharif, who attended the chat in a hijab, put to rest some common misconceptions about that, as well. She said people often think she wears the hijab for her husband, father or some other figure in her life. Yet she said she wears it for herself, to be closer to her religion and because it makes her happy.  

One attendee asked Alsharif whether she frowned upon those who don”t wear a hijab.

“Of course not,” Alsharif said. “I would love for you what I love for myself.”

Lierman said it”s easy to get bogged down in petty differences, but Islam encourages him to put aside his differences with others and not be weighed down by cultural tunnel vision.

“Islam is a much more universal thing,” he said.

Vayomy said one of the fundamental concepts of Islam is the individual”s relationship to God.

“It”s tough to make that connection,” he said. “But we do it in the exact same way every person in this room was brought to their faith – through struggling and personal experience.”

Carly Scott  can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

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