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C CAIR-FL In The News

Islamophobia panel at Palm Beach State College aims to promote peace

By Sarah Peters, For My Palm Beach Post, On 31 March 2016, Read Original
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Palm Beach State College’s Eissey Campus hosted a panel on Islamophobia to promote peace at a time when people with Middle Eastern backgrounds are sometimes treated with suspicion. The panel aimed at promoting peace featured an imam, civil rights attorney, former attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an FAU professor and a PBSC library assistant/FAU student. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)


PALM BEACH GARDENS — Deema Gichi was about 13 years old when she was pulled aside at the Miami International Airport for extra security screening on her family’s return trip from Syria.

She was wearing her hijab, or head covering, and a black jacket. She had to explain to the security agent that she couldn’t take them off out in the open or in front of any men.

They cleared out an employee lunch room, where a female agent slowly removed her jacket as if she was scared, Gichi said. The agent questioned what those metal wires were in her hijab — bobby pins. After about 15 minutes, the American-born citizen was on her way.

Hers was one of several stories of “Islamophobia” that five local Muslims shared during a panel at the Palm Beach State College campus in Palm Beach Gardens Wednesday afternoon.

It’s a common misconception that Muslim women are oppressed, attorney Maha ELKolalli said. People also tend to mistakenly assume they’re uneducated or don’t speak English.

Islam is diverse, and women are encouraged to be educated. There’s also a heavy emphasis on being wives and mothers. The hijab elevates women’s importance by privatizing their sexuality, she said.

Gichi, now a library assistant at Palm Beach State College and Florida Atlantic University engineering student, had a similar view.

“My hijab is a sign of modesty,” she said. “My hijab is a sign of freedom.”

She made an analogy to a precious diamond. If you had one, you wouldn’t show it off to everyone and let them touch it. You’d protect it.


Deema Gichi, a PBSC library assistant, tells a story about being delayed at an airport when she was 13 because of her hijab during a panel discussion on Islamophobia at Palm Beach State College’s Eissey campus in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on March 30, 2016.(Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)


Asked about current events, the panelists adamantly condemned terrorist attacks. The laws of Islam are well-documented, said Wilfredo Ruiz, communications director and former civil rights legal counsel for Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida.

“There’s no such thing as collateral damage,” Ruiz said. “Terrorism has absolutely no space in Islam.”

ELKolalli said whenever there’s an attack, “Muslim Americans go immediately from citizen to suspect.” Terrorist acts aren’t representative of Islam, just as slavery or the Ku Klux Klan isn’t representative of Christianity, she said.

Terrorists use polarization as a recruitment tool, Ruiz said.

Bassem Alhalabi, a professor of computer engineering at Florida Atlantic University, encouraged the audience of about 200 people to help their “Muslim brothers and sisters” blend into society.

“We are part of this community,” he said. “We are all of the same fabric.”



Khaoula Charki, 11, West Palm Beach, waves an American flag after finishing a speech at Palm Beach State College’s Eissey Campus. The college hosted a panel on Islamophobia to promote peace at a time when people with Middle Eastern backgrounds are sometimes treated with suspicion. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

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