At Home With Muslim And American Culture | WGLT

At Home With Muslim And American Culture

Jun 23, 2016

Zahra Abdulrehman, center, and her sister Hibah, right, talk with a friend after Ramadan services at the Islamic Center of Naperville.
Credit Judith Valente

At 8:30 last Saturday evening, Zahra Abdulrehman and her sister Hibah were about to break the Ramadan fast. They hadn't taken any food during this holy season of fasting for Muslims since 3:30 that morning. Before them were plates of spicy chicken, rice, yogurt, mango, watermelon and dates.

It would be many hours before the sisters would go home. They were planning to stay at their mosque, the Islamic Center of Naperville, for a Koran study group with other girls and young women. A female speaker was on deck. In between, they planned to get in some fitness routines with their friends in the mosque's expansive gymnasium.

Zahra, 21, and Hibah, 18,  represent young American Muslims who've managed to successfully combine their Islamic faith with American culture. Zahra is an elementary education major at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL, a Catholic institution. Hibah is studying bio-medical engineering at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Both wear the traditional Muslim head scarf, the hijab, as well as a floor length dress known as an abaya.  They consider themselves devout Muslims and proud Americans.

Still, both occasionally struggle on the edge of both cultures. "I personally have not experienced prejudice, but I have heard from my friends that people yelled things (at them). I commute everyday. I go to Union Station (Chicago) and you can see the increasing police presence there for safety, but it's comforting."

Because the sisters wear traditional dress that easily identifies them as Muslim, they said they feel under pressure to "improve the image Muslims have."

Zahra said comments about Muslims by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are troubling to many American Muslim students like her. "It is really is concerning to see somebody who is campaigning for the highest office in the land telling us we are not American."

Zahra said her parents came as immigrants from Pakistan to the U.S. before she and her sister were born and "achieved the American dream."

"They worked really, really hard and still work really hard. They have been prosperous and blessed by the grace of God to get where they are today," she said.

The young women's father owns an engineering firm for which her mother also works.

"We are part of the American fabric. We contribute. We are always giving back to the community," Zahra said. "We are as American as Americans can get, and to stand up there and tell us because of your faith you are not American and you shouldn't be here, that's totally wrong."