On Tuesday, ETSU students and faculty were given the opportunity to hear Zohra Sarwari, a successful author, international speaker and educator, present on her experiences as a Muslim woman amidst a world struggling to understand devastating acts of terror.

Sarwari’s presentation focused on what terrorism actually is, what islam truly means and why Muslim women dress the way that they do. While presenting information and explaining these issues, she provided personal anecdotes that allowed the audience to put a human face to the negative impacts of prejudice and misunderstanding.

“The moment that someone decides not to care what the outcome of their actions are, how they impact someone else, they have committed an act of terrorism. We have all been affected by terrorism at one level or another,” Sarwari said. “We know people who have fallen victim to domestic violence situations or others who have fallen into depression and possibly committed suicide. To me, someone who is bullied to the extent that they feel the need to take their own lives, that is a result of an act of terror.”

Zohra Sarwari

Zohra Sarwari

She advised the audience to look internally and truly think about what it means to commit an act of terror, and that contrary to what the media might portray, terrorism is not bound to the Islamic faith.  

“Why is it that when these acts are committed by someone that doesn’t identify as Muslim, why are they not considered acts of terror?” she questioned. “Terrorism has no age, race, gender or religion. We see violence all around our society. It is in video games, on tv…sometime we forget that what you put in is what you put out.”

According to statistics Sarwari shared from a Huffington post article, over 60 percent of Americans dislike Muslims, and less than half of the population has a true, basic understanding of Islam.

“It was statistics like these that pushed me to start doing what I am now. We worshp the same God as the Christian belief,” she said. “Islam simply means peace and obedience to the creator and his creation, with the creator being God almighty and the creation being other humans and beings. Being a Muslim simply means that you are submitting to God and his will.”

Sarwari also shared verses from the Quran that stressed the importance of peace and unity among people, contrary to the misinformed image of the Muslim faith that many people have.

“For us, we are all the children of Adam and Eve, there is no difference. God doesn’t say that he created us to kill one another, but the Koran says it is to get to know one another,” she said. “Verses taken out of context can cause so much harm.”

After sharing multiple verses from the Quran, many of which specifically emphasized peace and nonviolence, including aversion to suicide, she asked the audience to ponder how much some of these terrorists actually knew about Islam, or if they had merely fallen victim to brainwashing at the hands of powerful individuals.

“What all of this should mean to you is that Islam is a religion of peace. When we greet each other we say ‘Peace be upon you’ because that is how much we value peace. For us we are not allowed to hurt someone with our tongues or our hands,” Sarwari said. “As a Muslim, one bad word you say to someone could take you to the worst parts of hell, just as one good word to someone can take you to the best parts of heaven.”

After educating the audience regarding the values of the Muslim faith, she moved on to discuss the stigma surrounding Muslim women and the way they dress.

“What’s recommended is modest clothing that should be loose. You can only see the face and the hands. Your body figure shouldn’t be identifiable or noticeable,” she said. “I’m not here to judge or put anyone down, I’m simply here to say what our faith is saying.”

She laid to rest common misunderstandings that suggest Muslim women dress modestly out of oppression, or possibly even as an act of defiance. On the contrary, it is merely a symbol of devotion to one’s faith.

“We dress this way purely out of obedience to God and what we believe. Part of the reason we dress the way we do is to try and grow closer to God and focus on our spiritual relationship rather than concerning ourselves with outwardly appearances as much,” She said. “We want to be judged for who we are, not what we wear or what we look like.”

Before concluding, she encouraged the audience members to value our first amendment rights of religious freedom by helping to ensure that no one is left marginalized or oppressed simply for the manner in which they worship their God.

“This country is a melting pot, it’s for all of us. we’re all different in one way or another. At the end of the day, we may have disagreements but we are still sisters and brothers of humanity,” she said. “We have to learn, that for the short time that we are here, we have to learn to live with one another.”