Faith in Tuscaloosa series: Muslim student talks beliefs and community

Faith in Tuscaloosa series: Muslim student talks beliefs and community
Jake Stevens / Alabama Crimson White

Khalaf Abdullah

Khalaf Abdullah is one of the many students on campus who puts his faith in Islam. Although home is over 7,000 miles away in Ahmed Al Jaber, Kuwait, Abdullah’s dedication to Islam is unwavering. He is currently a student in the English Language Institute.

Q: What’s your major?

A: I have not started a major yet at the University. Right now, I am in the English Language Institute (ELI) at The University of Alabama to practice my English. It is not easy. Sometimes I have to write 1000 words on a really hard topic. I couldn’t even write 1000 words on it in Arabic. After that, I will go into electrical engineering, and hopefully someday get my PhD. 

Q: For someone who doesn't know anything about Islam, how would you describe the principles of your faith?

A: The meaning of the word Islam is peace. We are taught to forgive other people, even if someone does something bad to you. It is always good to forgive. We believe there is one God, Allahu Akbar, and that He stands alone. That’s what sets Islam apart from Christianity. We believe in Jesus as a prophet, just like the prophet Muhammed, and not as the son of God. In the Quran, God describes himself as “everywhere but no one can see Me.” I am a part of the Shiite group in Islam. We believe that the best people after the prophet Muhammed are his family members, so we follow them.

Q: How does your faith influence you in your everyday life?

A: I pray five times a day. The first one is before the sun comes up. I actually have an app on my phone that reminds me of the times I should pray. We have to pray facing Mecca. Mecca is a city in Saudi Arabia where the prophet Muhammed was born. We have to go there at least once in our lives.

Q: Has there ever been a time when it’s been difficult to practice Islam in America?

A: For Islam, the men cannot touch the women, but in America, you shake hands to greet people. When I first got here, I met a girl once that tried to greet me, and she did not understand why I couldn’t shake her hand. My English was not that good yet. I did not know how to explain it to her. She was angry at me. Also, we have to eat special food. I cannot eat the meat here because it has to be killed a certain way. I buy beef from Nashville and the chicken from Birmingham. I can eat specific kinds of fish: salmon, tilapia, tuna, etc. I eat at subway in the Ferg a lot because I can eat the tuna sandwich.

Q: Is there a strong Islamic community in Tuscaloosa?

A: I would say there is. I don’t connect with all of them, though. Some of my friends are Muslims, but I came here to study. If I stayed only with Arabic students, my English would not improve. I want to continue to learn English from the native speakers and practice it, so I learn quicker.

Q: What are common misconceptions about your faith? What do you want people to understand?

A: There’s a lot of people that look at Muslims as terrorists. For example, when I go to airports, they treat me differently than other people. Every time my brother travels from Kuwait to America, he gets pulled by security. Terrorists and ISIS just associate with Islam. In every religion, there are bad people. People see Muslims as terrorists because of ISIS on the news.

Q: What are your favorite holidays in your faith? How do you celebrate them?

A: We fast for an entire month from sunrise to sunset. That is called month of Ramadan. We do that to feel what the poor people feel. People always do what they want, and they neglect the poor people. When you fast, you remember how the poor people are feeling, and it encourages you to give. After the month of Ramadan, we have a three-day celebration called Eid.

Q: Do you share your faith with your family?

A: Yes, my family is also Muslim. I didn’t just become Muslim because my father is, though. It is personal to me. My father taught me what it is, but I read about it by myself too. I made a decision for myself to believe in Islam. I like to help people understand more about Islam. A lot of people just see Muslims as terrorists because of the news.

Q: Have you ever faced any adversity because of your faith? How did you deal with that?

A: Sometimes when I wear the scarf for Islam, I get strange looks. I wear what I want to wear, though. It’s no one else’s business.

Q: Is it hard to practice your faith here at the University?

A: Not for me. Sometimes I have to pray, because we pray at certain times, but I have class and cannot go back to my home. I usually just find a corner on campus to pray, and I don’t care what people think because it’s my religion.

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