MOSOunds | Episode V: Islam in the Bible Belt

Host: And so …. America has seen a large influx of Muslims in the last two decades.

The optics of this are clearly evident. In many areas of the United States today, Muslims are a common sight. On formal occasions, men sometimes wear the Kef fee ya, the full cotton scarfs on the head and gripped with strong hosepipe cord called an Agal.

Many women use the Hijab, a head scarf to cover their heads.

Julia Baer occupies the position of International Student Recruitment Coordinator at Missouri Southern. She says many of  Southern’s international students are Muslim.

Julia: Presently we have 49 Saudi Arabians on campus. Most are presumably Muslim.  However, that is not something we record with our students. Kind of private information. It kind of shows you that a large percentage of our international students are more than likely Muslim and I think it’s our duty to find ways to inform our campus of Islam in order to find ways to be more accommodating to their needs like we would be to our Christian and atheist students.

“Recently I have come back from Indonesia. Indonesia holds the largest Muslim population in the entire world.  So if I am going to be recruiting or going to more places like this, in order for us to warmly welcome these students in the future, you know if they do … would like to come to Missouri Southern, I think we need an environment that understands their culture to an extent. Once we do that we can better serve the students.”

Host: Islam is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion. It teaches there is only one God, Allah, and that Muhammad is the messenger of God. The religion has over one point eight billion followers, or 24 percent of the world’s population.  It’s the world’s second-largest religion, just behind Christianity which is followed by about 33 percent of the world’s population.

Mohammed Ibrahim is a Muslim.  He’s a Dental Hygiene student at Missouri Southern from Saudi Arabia.  The area he comes from, in the east part of the nation, is filled with green fields, farms, and lakes.

His father, now deceased, was a businessman with a farm and an auto mechanical shop that is now being run by his brothers.

Mohammed: My career goal is to be an Orthodontist.  After hygiene school, I am going to go to a dentist school and then be a specialist in orthodontist, work with braces and that stuff.

Host: He came to the United States to go to Missouri Southern in January of 2013, five years ago.  When he arrived in the Joplin area, he saw a part of the world he had never seen before.

Mohammed: When I came here first it was in January so it was like winter season.  I never saw snow before or the ice falling down. Wow. What’s this. Oh my God, I never saw the snow, I never saw like its feel or …. Catch it, you know.  I really like that.

Host: Why of all the schools in the U.S. did he come to Missouri Southern?

Mohammed: When I came to the U.S. I first came to K.U.  I studied there for three years.  I was supposed to be a Respiratory Therapist.  After I did my shadowing all that stuff, I didn’t like it at all.  I was studying in another field in medical science. And my cousin used to study here.  He just graduated last semester from Missouri Southern with an Industrial Technology bachelors. So I came to visit him, I saw the school. I talked to one of my friends here who was here to attend the Dental Hygiene School but didn’t get accepted. I talked to him about the major and the field. How is it what is it going to look like. After I do my research. I liked the major, I liked the area so I decided this was going to be my next step. I was going to come here.

Host: In the U.S., Muslims are in the minority. How does being in the minority affect Mohammed?

Mohammed: To me, to be honest, it doesn’t affect me in a bad way. For me it’s affecting in a good way. I was being told just be aware to go to the Midwest, specifically to this area like Joplin and Missouri, the people don’t like Muslims. They have Islamophobia and all this stuff.  But when I came here everything is different. The people was like nice to me. I had a lot of friends.  I had a chance to go to church. I had a chance to go to their houses and be really like a friends with them and end up being a family with them. Some of them being a part of my family now. I get to know them as my brothers and my sisters. And some of them like my Dad and like a Mom and they consider me as their son. It was really different. It’s not like its affecting me to be a minority. In another way it’s really good for me, I think.

Host: Mohammed attends a mosque on the west side of Joplin. He says local citizens donated the land for the facility. He says regular prayer is a large part of what Islam is all about.

Mohammed: So we pray five times a day. One in the morning before the sunrise. The other is between 12 and one o’ clock the middle of the day.  The Third one is in the evening. The fourth one after the sun sets. And then it’s the nighttime, the fifth one.  So basically like most of the time I’m being at home so I’m just praying my prayer at home.  When I have classes, I finish my classes and after that being late to pray. So that’s it.

Host: There are well over a billion Muslims in the world, a large percentage of the world’s population. Mohammed says he has heard of bad reactions from Westerners although overwhelmingly the reaction has been positive. He says he has made an active effort to learn more about Americans and the United States.

Mohammed: Do not judge a book by its cover. Do not judge me by my religion or background, nationality. Most of the time like I am a good friend with others. I go sometimes to church with my friends. Just to see what the religion is. Like learn some cultures and learn about the holidays you know like just before the three weeks or four weeks we have the Thanksgiving holidays and these other holidays. Some of them just invite me to their home to see like the culture, to see like the traditional stuff, the holidays, why they celebrate these holidays and I really appreciate that.  So this is why ….  Lets me learn more about you guys.

Host: The biggest holiday in the Islamic Culture is Ramadan, which generally takes place in May and April. He says technology helps Muslims keep on schedule with the prayers and fasts the holiday includes.

Mohammed: Here in the U.S. we use an app. Like an application for our phone.  So like its telling you like when is the prayer time. So we usually like stop eating. Like we start the fasting when the sun rises up like in the morning. And then we break our fast when the sun goes down. Like the third, at the fourth prayer. So, when we have that application, when we have that app, we know this time it’s for stop eating and this time for start eating and breaking our fast.

Host: Micheala Williams is a sophomore International Studies major at MSSU.  She is originally from Springfield, Missouri. She was not born a Muslim but became one when she reached college age. She says she came from a family extremely involved in religion.

Micheala: When I was born, my parents had been raised religious but at the time they had kind of fallen out of it. And so, my parents started going back to church. And so I was raised in church and then my Dad pursued becoming an ordained minister and so church was sort of the pinnacle focus, I think, of our home life. It was kind of very consuming for what we did as a family. So I was raised around religion and then I kind of fell out of it, but then I found Islam and that’s what kind of got me back into it.

Host: Michaela converted to Islam after developing friendships with Muslim students on the Missouri Southern campus.

Micheala: I was 20. It was actually on my 20th birthday that I converted.

Host: She says following her conversion, a learning process began.

Micheala: For me, it was just sort of everyday type things. What do I need to do every day? How should I dress, How should I present myself in public? It was just sort of adjusting my everyday routine to that. There were two people. One was my fiancée at the time and the other was my best friend.  So I had two different perspectives, one more personal, one much more teacher-like.  I would ask everyday questions, over and over and over again. Why do you do this, why do you say this? So I got quite a bit of answering of my questions and things like that.  It started off as choosing not to eat pork and every now and then wearing a scarf and going to the mosque every now and then. And it just sort of built up into turning that into a daily routine.

Host: She says Missouri Southern has a vibrant Muslim community.

Micheala: I would say it’s a lot larger than a lot of people think it is. It’s predominately Saudi Students because we have a large Saudi population here.

Host: In Saudi Arabia, women only recently were given the legal right to drive cars.  The change, which will take effect in June 2018, was announced in a royal decree read live on state television. We asked Michaela what is the position of women in Islam?

Micheala: So in Islam, basically half of a man’s entrance into Heaven, is his wife and his daughters.  And so the ability … the blessing of having a good wife and having daughters, women elevate men and their ability to get into heaven essentially. And the role of the mother is very, very important.  There is a very common misconception that women are somehow beneath men and I think that comes into cultural ties and how Islam is applied overseas but barebones women are . . . In  Islam, men and women have their separate roles but that doesn’t necessarily mean one is above the other. Each lifts the other up and have certain roles to play to help each other. I really think that’s quite beautiful.

Host: Michaela is a Sunni Muslim, the largest denomination with about 85 percent of devotees. Shia Muslims make up about 10 to 13 percent.  Michaela says adoption of Islam has helped her better understand global politics.

MichealaAs a Muslim, watching the news and understanding the conflict and things like that, I can see both sides as an American and as a Muslim I feel like when watching the conflict and trying to understand it being Muslim helps me understand both sides.

Host: Does Michaela expect to be a Muslim for the rest of her life?

Micheala: I mean I, I don’t know what the future holds. Really only God knows, but I do hope very much so with every fiber that I have that this is something that will continue throughout my life. I fully intend to be Muslim for the rest of my life.  I studied a lot and I thought long and hard about how this would change my life.  And I converted with the understanding and intent to be Muslim for the rest of my life. So I do hope so. If the day comes when I feel this doesn’t apply to me anymore, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but I really hope this is part of who I am until the end.

Host: For Missouri Southern State University, I’m Stephen Smith.