Muslim women’s rights advocate and Middle East peace activist Laila Al-Marayati discussed perceptions of Islam and current U.S. political and social issues affecting the worldwide Islamic community at CSUN on Oct. 24.
“(Labeling) makes it too easy to deal with people in a very simplistic way,” Al-Marayati said. “Anything that can reduce a person to being defined by one aspect of their personality is too simple, forgetting the complexity that makes us beautiful, interesting people.”
During her speech in the University Student Union Grand Salon, Al-Marayati focused on issues that face many Islamic followers in the United States. She has been a vocal opponent of the federal Patriot Act and similar governmental actions, and is the founder of the Muslim Women’s League, regularly writing and talking about issues of concern to Muslim women, including women’s rights under Islam, reproductive health and sexuality, and stereotyping.
Al-Marayati also discussed how Islamic experts in the media are neither Muslims nor followers of the Islamic religion and how that leads to misunderstandings of the religion.
“If someone is looking at me only through the lens of what they know about Islam, they see something very different from what they are used to seeing,” she said.
Al-Marayati said many of the people who perpetuate terrorist attacks around the world profess to be followers of Islam, but she added that assuming that all Muslim people are terrorists because of those actions is erroneous.
“Justice is the cornerstone of Islam. This principle is being flagrantly violated by Muslims themselves,” Al-Marayati said. “Our best chance at thwarting radicalism is (through) moderate Muslims who believe in civic engagement.”
Al-Marayati said she was humbled to address the crowd gathered at the lecture.
“The room was packed,” said Marta Lopez Garza, chair of the Women’s Studies Department. “We were sitting on the floor, and the great questions (were) a sign of the success we had tonight.”
After her presentation, Al-Marayati opened the floor to questions to elaborate on some of the topics she covered.
Winnie Nadershahi, a mother of a CSUN student, said she came to support the women’s right’s movement.
“I encourage my daughter to speak up, to go with the movement,” Nadershahi said. “I’m proud of (Al-Marayati) and the courage she has to speak up on this topic.”
As well as being a mother and doctor, Al-Marayati is also actively involved in women’s rights issues and Islamic issues. She is the director of obstetrics and gynecology for California Family Care at California Hospital Medical Center.
The Women’s Studies Department recognized Al-Marayati last year with a Phenomenal Woman Award. Al-Marayati’s speech was the fourth phenomenal woman distinguished lecture sponsored by the Women’s Studies Department.
“Her topic is so timely,” Lopez-Garza said.
Lopez-Garza said much of the focus on Muslims around the world is often one-sided. She said the complexity of the issues that Al-Marayati dealt with in her speech provided a perspective that is not often shown about Islam and Muslims in the United States and the rest of the world.
“Labels make you think negative of your own people and makes you exclude your own people, and they make you question who you are,” said Vardui Khorikyan, sophomore liberal studies major, who attended the lecture.
Chris Daines can be reached at email@example.com.