School assembly

Friday

Listening Post

Life after 9-11-01

October 09, 2001|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A petite woman in traditional Muslim dress stands at the foot of a gently sloping hillside at Loyola Blakefield prep school, her face and hands the only things visible outside of her burgundy outfit and head covering.

Sister Zakia Amin looks across at hundreds of boys wearing oxford shirts and slacks. She's here today to talk about Islam and its religious and cultural heritage. But at this moment, she is explaining the significance of her dress.

"Do you have to dress like that?" asks one middle-schooler in the front row.

Sister Zakia answers, "In public, according to the Koran, women have to cover everything but their hands and face. If you say you believe in a religion, then you must follow it."

Another hand goes up in the Catholic school crowd: "Do you find women who dress like that to be attractive?" Sister Zakia suggests her son might best answer this one.

Sixteen-year-old Asim, a student at an Islamic school, stands at the podium. "Well, you may look at a girl in skimpy clothes and think she looks good," Asim says, "but I see someone who doesn't respect herself. The one who follows her religion by being fully covered is attractive to me because she has respect for herself."

His response draws applause. But the question that stops the murmurs and chuckles running through the crowd isn't about fashion.

"Is jihad part of the religion or is it used for terrorism?" asks 11th-grader Nick Miller.

Students fall silent, all eyes on the man who takes over the podium.

Dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, pants and a traditional cap called a kufee, Brother Maalik Abdus-Samad is the principal at Asim's school. "Jihad means to exert effort," he says. "Historically it's been used to describe how Muslims would defend themselves and the religion through military campaigns, like Christian soldiers fighting for their faith. Those were primarily defensive wars and had nothing to do with terrorism."

The awful reality of a changed world dictates an assembly like this, the first of its kind at the Towson school. This is no mere educational exercise but an effort to avert misdirected anger toward the whole for the sins of the few.

"Our first instinct is to think they're all radical, but it's wrong to do that," says senior Dan Severn, 17. "We have to realize that the people who did this are not representative of the Muslim community."

But senior Billy Green is left wondering about people who don't know the difference, and act on it. "Did you hear on the news that an Arab man was killed? He might not have even been Muslim - he just looked it. Why didn't we talk about that?"

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