Muslim women shed light to help shed misconceptions

SHAFAQNA – The man who hurt Najwa Mordhah didn’t know her. He only saw her scarf. As the native of Saudi Arabia was taking a walk in Norfolk one day, he pulled up in a white car, rolled down his window and started shouting at her. Then he raised his middle finger. Mordhah walked away with “heavy steps and heavy tears,” she recalled Saturday at Old Dominion University’s Islamic Center. “Why do they hate me – or us?” she remembers thinking.

Mordhah, who will graduate with a doctorate in public administration from ODU in May, decided then to become an agent for change. She felt it was her duty to correct the many misconceptions Americans have about Muslims – particularly Muslim women.

Yes, she covers her hair with a scarf, but “this Muslim woman has never been oppressed,” she told a diverse group of about 100 women and children who had gathered to discuss Muslim women as precious and valuable gems – hidden beneath their scarves, niqabs and burkas because they choose to control who sees their beauty.

Mordhah gave up her dream of becoming a physician after having two boys, but with inspiration from her father, support from her husband and a grant from her government, she was able to study in the United States to become a different kind of doctor. When she finishes her degree, she and her family will move home to Saudi Arabia.

Two other speakers, one black and one white, told stories about their journeys as Muslim women, but they brought different viewpoints because they chose to “revert,” or convert, to Islam as young American adults.

And yet, they’ve had similar experiences.

Le’Jeané Ellis, who holds a bachelor of sociology degree and a master’s in applied sociology with an emphasis on criminal justice from ODU, also was verbally accosted by a stranger driving by.

“You don’t have to burn in hell,” she said he shouted, half his torso hanging out the car window. “Jesus can save Muslims, too.”

Ironically, Muslims believe Jesus, one of many prophets, was birthed by the Virgin Mary. He appears in the Quran in numerous passages.

Danielle Leibovici, a Jewish woman who attended the event, said she was pleased to have learned so many new things about Islam and Muslims. For example, she didn’t know that Moses, a prophet in Islam, is mentioned more in the Quran than Muhammad.

“Women can bring everyone together,” she said. “We are all children of Abraham, and we have so much to bring to the world.”

Sarah Kleiner Varble

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