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Muslims in the United States discover the beauty of diversity.
America is her new home. Nearly four years ago, Dian Kartikasari moved to Atlanta from Jakarta. Since arriving, she has sought out the Muslim community.
“Religion can be good common ground to find a friend,” she says. “The culture here is that people live individually. They don’t open their doors easily to newcomers.”
Growing up in one of the most populous cities in the world, she was surrounded by many friends. She met with different people every day. Marrying an American and moving to a new place took her away from all that human interaction. Loneliness became her enemy.
“It feels good when someone at a mosque calls you sister or brother,” she says.
In America, there are no calls to prayer. You don’t hear the sounds of kentongan, or wooden drums, waking people for early breakfast during Ramadhan. There isn’t a constant stream of sermons on television.
“When you want to pray, it’s your own call. There’s no social pressure,” she says.
Sirijun (center) and Rula Abdulrazzak (right) are seen at one of their Islamic classes.
She admits this situation helps her understand the religion better than in her home country. Being free from social pressure allows her to question her beliefs without fear of being judged. She goes to the library and to Islamic centers for answers. She’s made friends with other Muslims who come from other places in the world, including Bangladesh, Iran, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey. They have become her new family. And they help her see religion as something personal.
“When the preacher in Florida burned the Koran last year, there was hardly any violence here,” she recalls. “If that’s what he thinks about Islam, then it is his right. Some Muslims even said that if he burned one Koran, we should send him 10 more.
They show sympathy, not antipathy.” At the time of the Koran burning, many people in Indonesia and other parts of the world were furious and reacted violently against America.
“It’s not all of America, it was just one person,” she emphasizes. “Here, you are encouraged to respect other people’s opinions.”
Rula Abdulrazzak, from the small town of Florence in Kentucky, is on the same page with Dian. Coming from a Syrian family, she has spent her entire life as a minority in America. At a time when the government of Syria is killing its own people, Rula and her family feel safe in the US.
“I’ve traveled to many places in the world, and I think the most accepting society is in America,” she says. “It is very diverse here.”
The toughest time she had as a minority was just after the tragedy of Sept. 11, yet she does not blame the people who attacked Islam. “It was because they didn’t understand the real Islam,” she says.
Looking back, she remembers more good things about Americans than bad. Though Kentucky is far away from New York, neighbors checked on her house to make sure her family was alright. Her old neighbors in Michigan called and urged her to tell people the difference between what the radicals believed and what Islam was really about. They wanted the world to know that they had no problems living with Muslims.
She also received empathy from her American employer. When she decided to wear a hijab, or head cover, her boss offered to walk with her anywhere she felt uncomfortable, but she didn’t think that was necessary.
Jenna Zineddin, Rula’s 14-year-old daughter, feels the same way as her mother. The kids at school have never bullied her for being a Muslim. After she started wearing a hijab, she realized that her friends treated her even better.
“It makes it obvious to people that I am a Muslim. It lets them know that I pray, and that I fast during Ramadhan,” she says. But Jenna never asks for special treatment. “If I have a gym class when fasting, I’ll just do the basic moves,” she says.
Students attend Sunday school at Islamic Center of Northern Kentucky.
In the summer, when the days are long, Muslims in America fast for more than twelve hours. Their first meal can be as early as five in the morning, and the next will not be until around nine in the evening.
“When you think about going 15 hours without food or water, then it is hard. I just don’t think about it,” Rula laughs.
During Ramadhan, Rula and her friends hold a potluck dinner at the Islamic Center of Northern Kentucky. People bring food and break the fast together, while every Sunday the center provides Islamic classes for children. Sirijun Mayi, from Thailand, is in charge of the educational program.
“We teach them how to pray and read the Koran,” Sirijun says. They come from many different backgrounds, including Bosnia, Morocco and Palestine.
There are many Islamic centers in America. Those located in large cities can have hundreds of members. For Indonesian Muslims in Atlanta, there is Ikatan Keluarga Muslim Indonesia Atlanta (IKMIA).
Once a month, they gather and study the Koran. For those who don’t have time to meet, IKMIA provides a class where members can listen to the sermon and ask questions via telephone. Dian is one of them. Her job keeps her busy most of the time, but it does not stop her from learning. The more she knows, the better she is at dealing with diversity.
“In the end, it’s about what you believe,” she says. “Being different is alright, even among Muslims themselves. It should not be a threat.”
— Photos Courtesy of Islamic Center of Northern Kentucky