An American, a Muslim, a teen

What's it like to be a follower of Islam in the United States today? We visit a muslim family.

AS A MUSLIM AMERICAN, 14-year-old Feda Eid might seem to live a life of contrasts.

A Dunkin' Donuts bag and a Koran share space on her dresser. Sneakers and head scarves are both part of her daily dress. And in the evenings, she might watch "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" after praying toward Mecca with her parents and six siblings.

But in our nation's melting pot of cultures and religions, it's those contrasts that make Feda Eid (FEE-dah ah-YEED) distinctly American.

"I don't see why anyone would think I'm more or less of an American just because of my religion," Feda says. Her greenish-blue head scarf accents the intense green of her eyes.

She has thought a lot about her religion and her country since Sept. 11, when terrorists attacked the United States. Feda is a freshman at North Quincy High School near Boston. Recently, some of her fellow students have pestered her for wearing a head scarf. "They thought that because I'm a Muslim, I must agree with what the terrorists did," she says. "Of course I don't!" she adds.

Too many Muslim stereotypes

But mostly, Feda says, students have been really nice, and have asked her about her religion, Islam. A few teachers have asked her to explain in class how she practices her religion.

Feda often begins by pointing out stereotypes of Muslims in movies, television shows, news reports - and even in her history books. Muslims are often portrayed as oil-rich Arabs, women in long black robes, sword-swinging warriors fighting medieval Christian crusaders, or suicidal terrorists.

"I have the same religion as the Sept. 11 terrorists," Feda says, "but the terrorists make it completely different.... They stretch the ideas of Islam, and think their attack was justified because it was a jihad [holy war].... But really, killing innocent people is not a jihad - nor is it even allowed in Islam."

Feda's parents and two older sisters came to the United States from Lebanon in 1982, during the civil war there. Feda, two more sisters (one older, one younger), and two younger brothers were born here.

Feda says her life isn't very different from the lives of her classmates, except "maybe that I wear a head scarf and pray throughout the day."

She wears the scarf because Islam requires that women dress with modesty (no showy or revealing outfits). "But I don't usually wear it around the house or when I'm just around relatives," she says. Younger girls don't wear them, either.

Islam also requires Muslims to pray five times a day: at dawn, midday, afternoon, evening, and night. This is one of the "five pillars of Islam," the basic requirements of faith. Her dad, Talal (tuh-LAHL), usually wakes up the family around 5:30 a.m. to pray together.

The family heads downstairs to the living room and puts small rugs down on the wooden floor. The rugs point toward Mecca, the Saudi Arabian city where the prophet Muhammad was born. (See accompanying story.) Talal leads the prayers for the family and also for a nearby mosque (a Muslim place of worship). As the mosque's prayer leader, he is the "imam" (ee-MAM). That's an Arabic word for "prayer leader." He reads from the Muslim holy book, the Koran, and sometimes delivers sermons.

Fasting during Ramadan

Feda says she sometimes goes back to bed after morning prayer. "Or, if I miss it, I pray whenever I wake up," she adds. She usually waits until she gets home from school around 3 to do the rest of the prayers with her family, or by herself in her room.

During the holy month of Ramadan (RAHM-uh-dahn), though, she and several other Muslim students will pray together in a room at school. Observing Ramadan is another pillar of Islam. During Ramadan, devout Muslims do not eat or drink from dawn to sunset. Muslims think of the fast as a tuneup for their spiritual lives and a time to grow stronger by improving their self-discipline. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar. This year, it's from Nov. 16 to Dec. 14.

The other pillars of Islam are giving to charity; visiting Mecca at least once, if possible; and professing that "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet."

Feda also attends Sunday school and often reads from the Koran with her mom, Hend. Like other girls her age, Feda has hobbies - basketball and drawing. She wants to be a pediatrician when she grows up.

Feda especially liked hearing something that President Bush said to the nation on TV recently: "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam," he said. "Islam is peace."

A short history of Islam

Today, Islam is practiced throughout the world by an estimated 1.2 billion believers, called Muslims. Only Christianity has more followers - about 2 billion in all. The countries with the largest Muslim populations are Indonesia and Pakistan. In the United States, there are about 5 million Muslims and some 190 million Christians.

Only about 1 in 5 Muslims in the world is an Arab. But the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca is dear to all Muslims. It was there that, in AD 610, a 40-year-old merchant named Muhammad said he had received messages from God. After his death in 632, Muhammad's messages were put together in a book called the Koran. The Koran is Islam's holy book.

Muslims believe that God has spoken to other prophets, including the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament. Jesus of Nazareth is also considered a prophet in Islam, but Muslims believe that Muhammad completed God's message to humanity.

Muslims believe that they are descended from Ishmael, the son of the Bible's Abraham and his second wife, Hagar. Jews and Christians, they say, descended from Isaac, the son of Abraham and his first wife, Sarah. (The story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar is found in Genesis. See chapters 15, 16, and 21.)

In Muhammad's time, the city of Mecca was known for worshiping more than one God. When Muhammad began to preach the idea that there was only one God, he angered a lot of people. So in 622, Muhammad and a small group of followers fled to nearby Medina. This event, the Hegira, marks the first year of the Islamic calendar.

When Muhammad died in 632, Islam had spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula. By the 900s, through military conquests and voluntary conversions, Islam stretched from Spain to India.

Today, Muslims strive to follow the teachings of the Koran. But Muslims have differing views about what the Koran's teachings mean, just as Christians differ about the Bible, and Jews about the Torah.

Osama bin Laden is a Saudi Arabian now in Afghanistan who allegedly was behind the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11. Mr. bin Laden justifies such actions based on his interpretation of the Koran and other Islamic writings. Mainstream Muslims reject such views as extreme, even un-Islamic.

Some terms to know

Allah - the Arabic word for God. Muslims believe in one supreme God.

Imam - (ee-MAM) the prayer leader at a mosque; a Muslim clergyman.

Islam - the religion's name. In Arabic, it means "submission to the will of God."

Kaaba - (KAH-bah) the holy shrine in Mecca. Five times a day, Muslims turn toward Mecca and the Kaaba to pray.

Mecca - the city in present-day Saudi Arabia where Muhammad was born about AD 570.

Mosque - Muslims' place of worship.

Muhammad - the Arab prophet who founded Islam.

Muslim - a follower of Islam; literally, 'one who submits.'

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