Hijabs are a symbol of oppression. Jihad is terrorism. An act of violence by an Arab is always a terrorist act.
These are some of the misconceptions American Muslims face each day, even in Madison. An event this Sunday wants to help set the record straight about what it means to be Muslim.
“We just want to make sure that the people in this community get a chance to meet their Muslim neighbors,” said Sarah Schlosser, a member of the local Muslim community and moderator of the event.
The Madison Muslim Community is hosting the event, titled "Clearing Misconceptions about Islam," on Sunday, May 21, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Madison Marriott West, 1313 John Q. Hammons Dr. in Middleton.
There’s a lot of conflicting information about Muslims in the media and online, and it can be hard to discern what’s legitimate, Schlosser said.
Schlosser didn’t grow up in the Islamic faith, but she’s not immune to Muslim stereotypes.
“As soon as I began to cover myself and dress in a more modest way, that immediate assumption: ‘Oh, there must be a guy and he must be telling you to do that,’” Schlosser said. “I didn’t convert for a guy, I converted because that’s where my faith lies.”
This year’s event aims to help Madisonians better understand Muslims like Schlosser. It follows a 2016 panel discussion titled, “Islam, Muslims and the West: ISIS -- Our Common Enemy.” That panel aimed to educate the community about “the real Islam,” emphasizing unity in the fight against ISIS. They planned for 200 people, but over 500 showed up, said Masood Akhtar, a prominent member of Madison’s Muslim community who helped organize the event.
“It showed to us that our coworkers, friends and neighbors have tremendous interest in learning about Islam, Muslims, and our views about ISIS as our common enemy and standing with us in solidarity during tough times,” Akhtar said in an email.
This year, the event will look more broadly at misconceptions, with a focus on women’s rights, Sharia law, terrorism and jihad. Several speakers are lined up to address the topics.
The first speaker, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, will talk about local law enforcement's relationship with Muslims. Ozanne will address how the community can work together to prevent terrorism attacks and hate crimes against Muslims, Schlosser said.
Dr. Hadia Mubarak, a lecturer on religion at the University of North Carolina and Winthrop University, will talk about women’s rights. There’s a lot of media coverage of horrible examples of treatment of women by groups like ISIS, so Mubarak will talk about what the holy text, rather than headlines, say about women and their rights, Schlosser said.
Sheikh Azfar Uddin, an imam from the Islamic Foundation North in Libertyville, Illinois, will address Sharia law.
“Sharia actually has the objective of protecting things like life, property and intellect,” Schlosser said. “It’s a comprehensive system that helps us to live a good life.”
Finally, Sheikh Alhagie Jallow, a local Imam at Madinah Community Center in Madison, will tackle the subject of jihad. When people hear “jihad,” they think terrorism, Schlosser said, but the word actually means “struggle.”
There will also be videos on combating terrorism, and the day will end with an hour set aside for a question and answer session. Schlosser emphasized that the Muslim community is eager to sit down and answer questions for anyone curious to know more about Islam, and not just at the event. Questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anti-Islam sentiment is on the rise, Schlosser said, citing a recent attack on a Muslim woman in Milwaukee. But in general, Madison is safe and welcoming, and Schlosser wants to make sure it stays that way.
“When I look at this event, it’s about helping people understand something they don’t understand so they can help raise awareness and make sure fear and hatred doesn’t grab hold in our community,” Schlosser said.