News Archive

Understanding Islam

Coverage of seminar from the Lynchburg News & Advance

2/14/2005 9:38:37 AM

The following story appeared in the Monday, February 14, 2005 edition of The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Virginia, and is reprinted with permission.

By Beth Rodriguez
The News & Advance

Since Sept. 11, 2001, American newspapers, television screens and magazine covers have been flooded with information and images of Islam and Islamic communities.

The problem, according to Amina Rubin, a Muslim senior at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, is the ideas presented often don’t reflect the religion accurately.

Rubin, a Bedford native, was one of the founding members of United Muslimahs, or UMMAH, a campus group of about 40 people dedicated to providing support for Muslim students and outreach to the non-Muslim community. Since its creation in fall 2001, the organization has sponsored numerous educational events for the campus community.

To help their fellow students - and the Lynchburg community - separate fact from fiction, UMMAH has organized a Feb. 19 seminar, “Pathways to Understanding II: Media Images of Islam and America at Home and Abroad,” featuring nationally known panelists.

“There are so many negative images of Islam, we want to provide a way for people to understand the images they see,” Rubin said.

Members of UMMAH hope the seminar will be as successful as the group’s first “Pathways” seminar. Held in 2003, the earlier seminar attracted 180 participants and focused on “Constructive Dialogue Between Muslims and Non-Muslims.”

Atefeh Leavitt, also a Bedford native and Muslim senior at R-MWC, said she hopes the seminar can become a biannual event.

“Misunderstandings about Islam come from ignorance. There’s a huge population of Muslims in the world who are very moderate and very open and not really what’s represented. It’s very important for Muslims to speak out and reclaim the image of Islam, which has become very politicized,” she said.

Leavitt said her fellow students have been very interested in learning more about Islam, a fact reflected in UMMAH’s membership. Despite the fact that “Muslimahs” refers to female Muslims, the majority of the group’s members are non-Muslim students.

Diana Andanut, one of the non-Muslim members, said many of her friends are Muslim.

“I joined UMMAH because I wanted to learn more about the religion of my friends. I wanted to make sure I’d get the right picture (of their faith).”

The “right picture,” said Leavitt, is that Islam is “a religion of peace and non-violence and service. … It’s very important to me that people see that side of Islam.”

The keynote speaker of the Feb. 19 event is Jack Shaheen, a former CBS news consultant on Middle East affairs and author of “Arab and Muslim Stereotypes in American Popular Culture.” Other speakers include Nihad Awad, the executive director and co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Farah Brelvi, a board member of Amnesty International.

Leavitt hopes people will take the opportunity to educate themselves about the images of Muslims in the media because “even people who don’t know they have questions might have misconceptions.”

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CONTACT: Brenda Edson, Director of College Relations