Panel Discusses Being Muslim in Youngstown

By Morgan Petronelli

Youngstown is filled with an assortment of individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds, ethnicities and races.

With the recent U.S. 90-day travel ban of refugees from seven countries, some are taking this as a direct threat to the Muslim community not only around the world, but also here in Youngstown.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown organized and held a public panel discussion on Feb. 4 at the church on Elm Street. Roughly 100 children and adults showed up to the event that lasted around an hour and a half.

The panel consisted of members of local mosques and the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown who were there to answer questions and discuss topics related to Islam and recent political events.

Randa Shabayek, former President of the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown, opened the panel with an introduction explaining the principles and basic teachings of Islam called the five pillars. This included five daily prayers, declaration of their faith, fasting during Ramadan, the importance of charity and pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.

Shabayek reiterated through short stories and messages in the Quran that Islam is a peaceful religion and that there are many misconceptions surrounding the faith.

After the introduction by Shabayek, the panel was opened for a question and answer session. The event organizer, BeckyAnn Harker asked what life was like in Youngstown as a Muslim.

Susan Esmail, a dietitian, said that she was born and raised Muslim in the area.

“I’ve been a Muslim my whole life and I’m proud to be a Muslim,” Esmail said. “It wasn’t until I got older and raising my own children right now that I feel like I have grown to have more fear for where they’re being raised and how they’re being thought of in the community.”

Amirah Mufleh, a Liberty High School student, explains that her and her brothers grew up in a post 9/11 era that has a preconceived negative image of Islam.

“We as young students have had to overcome. We’ve had to persevere through and that has strengthened our faith and has strengthened my faith as a young girl,” said Mufleh.

Mufleh went on to explain that the terrorist group ISIS doesn’t only hate people of other religions.

“They hate us too,” said Mefleh.

One volunteer asked what it was like to be Muslim in general. Bilal Wekhyan, a sophomore at Boardman High School, revealed that when his friends ask him questions regarding his religion or particular events on the news they are shocked.

“They are always stunned and surprised to see [what] a Muslim actually is,” Wekhyan said. “They are so brotherly, they’re loving, they help a lot of people and we basically just love everyone.”

Ray Nakley, a Christian of Arabic descent who attended the discussion, pointed out the correlation of many similarities between Islam and Christianity. This included the word “Allah” (which many falsely view with a negative connotation), which is actually the Arabic word for God.

Nakley also mentioned that both religions recognize and share devotion to the religious figure Mary, which the Quran talks about more than the Bible does.

Esmail added on to what Nakely said by stating that there are other simple similarities that we fail to notice such as fasting during Ramadan and “fasting” during Lent. She went on to say Adam and Eve are also acknowledged as integral figures in both religious texts.

“We have more things in common than you think,” said Shabayek.