Moath Othman, a sophomore material science and engineering major and vice president of the Muslim Students Association, shocked one of his SJSU professors by telling him that he was a Muslim.
“I was like ‘Yeah, I’m a Middle Eastern Muslim from Palestine,’ and he was like, ‘Oh, you’re Muslim. Hm, you’re so nice!’” Othman said. “You can’t really take that as a compliment because it’s kind of saying ‘I didn’t know Muslims were nice.’”
Othman said the general perception of Muslims, particularly since the Sept. 11 attacks, is very negative and judgmental because people assume that these are the kind of people “who are blowing up our buildings” and are “a threat to this nation.”
According to Othman, there are about 10 million other Muslims in America, a number that would probably surprise the people who hold that presumptuous view of members of the Islamic faith.
“I think had they known that, they would have felt a lot more threatened,” Othman said. “Or like, ‘Why aren’t they doing anything?’”
Chafik Ziadeh, a junior international business major, said one of the many things people don't realize about Islam is that it is a balanced and moderate way of life without any extremities.
"Islam is merely a tool to help stabilize our day to day endeavors," Ziadeh stated in an email.
Although there are many people out there who are ignorant about Muslims and their values and beliefs, Othman said there are plenty of people he’s befriended in high school and college who have an accurate understanding of what he can and cannot do as a person of Islam,
such as drink alcohol and use marijuana.
“Whenever we go out and play soccer sometimes they go out and might drink afterward,” he said. “So they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, OK let's go somewhere else because Moath doesn’t drink.’ Even through high school with the partying and whatnot and a lot of marijuana and drug use, they all knew (I couldn’t participate).”
This isn’t the only aspect of Othman’s lifestyle that strays from the stereotypical American college student’s.
“Today, I woke up at 5:45 (a.m.), washed up and went to pray,” he said. “I live right across the street from a mosque, which is very convenient, I just have to walk now.”
Othman said Islam mandates every Muslim to pray five times throughout the day at certain times beginning at dawn with the Fajr prayer, which has to be done before sunrise.
Muslims are also required to perform a cleansing ritual called Wudu before executing each of the daily prayers, according to Othman.
“There’s a certain process," he said. "You wash your hands and arms and face and basically cleanse yourself before prayer, because prayer is your communication with your lord.”
The second prayer is called the Dhrur and takes place around noon and the third one is the afternoon prayer, called the Asr, which usually takes place around 4:30 p.m., according to Othman.
The fourth prayer is at sunset and called the Maghrib and the final one, called the Isha, takes place in the evening.
“This is how religion influences my day-to-day life — I manage my activities with prayer,” Othman said. “So I’ll be like ‘Hey lets play soccer between Asr and Magrib,' so my sense of time is through that … I have to get out of class in time to pray… so it’s always something that I keep in consideration.”
Ahmad Badr, Muslim Student Association president, said what many people don't understand is that Islam is not a religion in the modern understanding of the word, meaning followers of the religion only performing certain acts and rituals.
"Islam is a way of life; it is a code of morals and ethics infused with rituals that govern a person's daily life; from the way they dress, eat, and sleep to the way they pray, worship, and perceive life," Badr stated in an email.
Another common misconception regarding Muslims is that the faith oppresses women and forces them to cover up their bodies and faces, according to Othman.
“People usually alienate themselves to things they don’t know about and they have to find ways to justify that alienation and that difference,” he said. “So they have to demonize it in such a way and the way it’s been demonized is that they name someone to be oppressed and what I usually say to those people is ‘Have you ever spoken to them? Come speak to one of my relatives or speak to my mom.’”
He said his mother covers her face with the traditional Islamic hijab, which most people identify as a headscarf, although it can also be a term used to describe covering one’s entire body.
“My mom’s been wearing that ever since she was 13 or 14 but that’s something that’s based upon what you believe in,” he said. “So if you believe that there’s a God and this God is going to judge you based on your actions (and) he has given you a set of laws and rules to live your life by, then you want to follow those rules and laws.”
He said his mother chooses to wear the hijab when she teaches tajweed, which is the proper reading style of the Quran — the holy text of Islam — but doesn’t wear it while at home because she isn’t required to wear it around her family members.
“It’s not like my dad comes home and is forcing her to wear it,” he said. “She doesn’t have to wear it around people of her family or even around females … they think ‘Oh, she’s so oppressed, she has to wear it everywhere, she can’t do anything, she can’t work.’ Actually, she can work, that’s another misconception is that women can’t work.”
Othman said Islam has shaped his life in countless ways, from determining the everyday decisions he makes to molding the future life he sees for himself.
“In terms of long term goals and personal beliefs, I try to associate my goals with something religious,” Othman said. “I believe that we were created in this life to basically serve God and believe in God and it’s like a test for us."
Ziadeh said out of the many Islamic values that exist, his favorite is the obligation to give alms (charity) at least once a year.
"Since a young age I've seen this trait rooted and practiced by those around me," he said. "Therefore it's helped me develop a humbling, yet pride-worthy habit of always giving, sharing and caring."
Othman said he believes that after death, each person will be judged based on what they have done throughout their life and the choices they made.
"This life is a test and at the end … God judges everyone based on their circumstances,” he said.
Othman said his ultimate goal is to please God and follow God’s rulings to grant him entrance to heaven in addition to his worldly goals, such as earning his college degree.
“My degree, that’s a personal goal and it’s something I’ll be making money out of, but at the same time I have that intention that when I get my degree, my actions will be ethical,” he said. “I won’t be dealing with bribery, signing things off that shouldn’t be signed, which in the engineering practice is seen often … so those are some religious intentions I’ve had (with) personal goals as well.”
Othman said he started to read and memorize the Quran when he was 3 years old and living in Jordan where he went to school and learned about the Quran in Arabic.
“One of the courses I was taking was Quran reading and they basically taught you how to read … we believe that the Quran was revealed through Gabriel from God, it was God’s messenger to the prophet Muhammad,” he said.
Othman said he believes he was put on this Earth to follow God’s orders and live the best life he can, in part by basing his decisions on whether or not his choices would be allowed under Islamic values and beliefs.
“I’ve memorized portions of the Quran, so I know there’s a verse, the chapter’s called Al-Mulk,” he said. “It’s the second verse, the translation’s ‘The one who created the heavens and the Earth to test which of you is the best in action.’ So I think it’s a personal test to me … I’m always trying to improve myself.”