CAIRO - Portrayed negatively in the US media and American public, Muslim students in the southwest suburb of Chicago have joined hands to change the prevailing misconceptions about their community.
"We just felt that we weren't being represented and that we should have been," Naimeh Issa, a student at Sandburg High School, told Chicago Tribune on Wednesday, May 22.
"In the school a lot of people had negative responses toward us, and we wanted to change that."
Naimeh and fellow Muslim students have joined hands to form a school group to combat wrong perceptions about their community and religion.
They hold weekly meetings on Mondays to educate fellow students about their culture and religion.
Starting their meetings with the recitation of verses of the Noble Qur'an, the students discuss social issues as dating, school cheating and how to fit in the community.
They also hold sessions to raising debates about the true meaning of certain Islamic terms such as Jihad as well as the hijab (headscarf).
Issa, who dons the hijab, said that she sometimes get looks in the hallways over her headscarf.
She had also heard from Muslim friends about how they were sometimes disrespected because of their culture and religion.
The group, the Muslim Student Association, has won popularity among school students, with Muslims and non-Muslims alike join the meetings.
Organizers say they seek to get their fellow Americans better understand Muslims and their religion.
"People usually fear the unknown," Issa said.
"We don't want that. We have the same ideals, morals and patriotism that our great nation was founded on."
As a way of changing misconceptions, Muslim students try to show American colleagues that they share their values.
They have raised funds for a local food pantry and for building wells for the poor in Ghana.
Last year, Muslim students raised money for earthquake victims in Turkey.
The group's members also did an Earth Day project last year, painting pictures of nature on school windows.
School officials have praised Muslim students for seeking to present the true face of their faith.
"They invited kids from all different arenas of life to teach everyone about their religion and belief system because there's a lot of misconceptions there," said Shawn Donovan, who chairs social studies, world languages, art and media and also oversees the group.
He said the Muslim students were consistently organized and professional.
"To have the numbers they have is awesome.
Although there are no official figures, the United States is believed to be home to between 6-8 Muslims.A US survey has revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net