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Perceptions of Islam

Three women share their experiences with Islam at Syracuse University.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Magda Bayoumi tried to reach her husband for more than five hours. He worked near the World Trade Center, and his job often took him inside the Twin Towers. When Bayoumi finally connected to him, she said he was hysterical.

"They’re not there anymore,” he said, screaming. “They are not there. I’m looking at them, and they’re not there.”

Photo: Victoria Marlin
The Islamic Society of Central New York, located at 925 Comstock Ave., opened in 1980.

Almost a decade later, tears still swell in Bayoumi’s eyes when she discusses this day. Because she is Muslim, she says, she did not get to grieve for 9/11 like any other American. “I went — in a matter of seconds — from a victim to an accused,” she said.

Bayoumi and her husband both attended Syracuse University, and they now live in Syracuse with their three children. They are members of the Islamic Society of Central New York, located on Comstock Avenue, where Bayoumi serves on the board.

"In Syracuse, we really have a great community and good people, and they take care of you," she said.

The legacy of 9/11 stays with them, Bayoumi said, as mainstream news media portrays Muslims as disloyal to the United States and bad for the country.

“We are Muslim. But we feel that we are part of the country… and we’re part of the disaster,” Bayoumi said.

Lenah Hassaballah watched the 9/11 attacks from her home in Cairo, Egypt, and she remembers knowing that things would change for Egyptians, along with Muslims and Arabs.

“I feel compassion for everyone who suffered because of it. It is very sad,” she said. “But I don’t think that others in the Arab world should suffer because of it. I think that’s very unfair.”

Hassaballah transferred to SU from the American University in Cairo to study journalism. Like Bayoumi, she blames the media, especially American media, for many of the popular misconceptions about Islam. Yet the reactions she’s received from her classmates at SU give her hope.

“People are intrigued and interested wherever I go,” she said. “So, that’s a good thing, that there’s this sense that they want to know more.”

Haifa Jedea moved to New York City from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, when she was in sixth grade. Like Bayoumi and Hassaballah, she has watched major media cover stories of Islamic fundamentalists and violent behavior by radical Muslims. This coverage, said the recent SU graduate, only shows a small minority, but it plays a major role in perpetuating negative stereotypes.

“It’s controversial and it attracts attention, and that’s what the media’s been doing in general in regards to Islam. And that’s unfortunately why people have that image," she said. “All they are exposed to is these stories, these kinds of stories.”

Bayoumi, Hassaballah and Jedea have different kinds of stories than the ones they see on television and in the newspaper. Theirs are stories about daily prayer, thinking of God, working hard and, above all, trying to be good people.

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