More than 480 high school students from around the United States learned about Islam during the IU High School Journalism Institute Summer Workshop in July. Zakariah D. Love, a member of the Bloomington Islamic Center, called it "a good opportunity for the students to create knowledge about Islam interactively, rather than to receive it from the media."
The Summer Workshop challenges students' viewpoints and enables them to have the chance to meet a variety of people from different perspectives and to approach and interview them, said Institute Director Teresa A. White, a full-time lecturer at the IU School of Journalism. "We want to instruct and improve journalistic and publication staff skills and give our students the opportunity to be more knowledgeable, professional and open-minded."
To help achieve this goal on the topic of Islam, students wrote feature stories, straight news stories or editorials about a lecture presented by IU professor Faiz Rahman, president of the Islamic Center in Bloomington. They also interviewed members of the Bloomington Islamic Center.
Rahman's lecture was titled "Going Beyond Your Perspective." He spoke about the history of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed's life. He said every Muslim believes that "there is no God but God, and Mohammed -- Peace and Blessings be upon him -- is the last and final Prophet."
Rahman said the Five Pillars of Islam are testimony (shahad), prayer (salat), charity (zakat), fasting during Ramadan (saum) and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj). "Just as a house has pillars for its foundation, Islam has pillars for those who believe," he said. He noted historical scholarly achievements of Muslims, including the invention of algebra and significant contributions to philosophy, astronomy and medicine.
Rahman emphasized that Muslims believe that a child is born without sin and that all humankind originates from the same parents (Adam and Eve). "Therefore, we are all equal; we are all brothers and sisters."
He called special attention to a Verse of the Q'uran (Surah 49:13) which can be translated into English as: "O Mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female and have made you into nations and tribes that ye may know one another."
Immediately following the lecture, students interviewed members of the Bloomington Islamic Center who had attended. They asked questions about Islamic Society and Islamic culture, as well as about political and current affairs involving Palestine and the Occupied Territories, Israel, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
"Without the chance to meet these members, the students might not have the chance to recognize, discuss, and analyze these topics with Muslims," White said.
Students asked questions about Jihad, Sharia Law, gender equality in Islam and whether Jesus was included in Islam.
During the discussion on Jihad, Bloomington Mosque member Reda Mechref explained, "The meaning of Jihad is to struggle. For example, if you are a working mother and also taking care of your mother who has Alzheimer's disease, you are doing Jihad. Jihad is something that is very dear to all Muslims."
Rahman explained that there are three types of Jihad: 1) The struggle against temptation (alcohol, drugs, immoral behavior), 2) to speak the truth against oppression and injustice and 3) to defend yourself from the enemy if you are driven out of your home.
"Jihad does not mean Holy War," he said.
A student asked, "If someone cuts off my nose, would it be Jihad to cut off his nose?" Rahman answered, "No. That is not Jihad. If you are wronged, you must turn to the justice system."
Another issue of concern was 9/11 and how Muslims were treated afterward.
Rahman told of how he had returned to his home following the attack and saw that he had many calls on his answering machine. "I was somewhat worried at first, thinking that these might be angry, abusive calls, but I was happy to find out that all the calls were from my friends and neighbors offering support and confirming their friendship."
He went on to say, "If someone who does not know me does not like me -- that does not bother me. I am only concerned when someone who does know me does not like me. That is why it is important for Muslims to get out into society and communicate."
"The meaning of Jihad is to struggle. ... Jihad does not mean Holy War."- Faiz Rahman, Bloomington Islamic Center
Noor Mohammed, a member of the Islamic Center and a native of Malaysia, said, "It seemed to me like many of the high school students felt like 9/11 was the beginning of history. Once we could get into a conversation and define whether we were talking about religion or history or politics, we had some fascinating discussions."
She explained that many of the Muslims from the Islamic Center told her that they attended the event with the goal of representing themselves. "Many of the Muslims who came to this event were pleased that they could communicate this sense of individuality to the students, rather than being lumped into the perspective of one group of people with exactly the same viewpoints on all subjects," she said.
White said the articles students wrote didn't emphasize religion or politics. "The focus was primarily cultural and societal. They were very interested in the lecture and the meetings afterwards, and it was often pointed out that you should not rush to judgment."
White concluded that there while there were many positive written comments, there was "not one single negative written comment about this event. I think part of the reason for that was the fact that Faiz and the others really knew how to talk to high school students, not talking over their heads, but talking to them."
Anas Alahmed and Dave Stewart can be reached at and .