Overcoming stigma of being Muslim in United States

By Zoya Timoshenko, Contributing Writer

Islam has become a word known by all, feared by some and revered by others.

The religion came to the forefront of many Americans’ minds after the morning of September 11, 2001. Many people associated the acts of extremists or terrorists with the acts of those who identify as Muslim. In fact, many Muslim countries in the Middle East have struggled to protect themselves against these terrorist groups in their own countries.

Many of these citizens have fled to other countries, seeking asylum, survival and protection. They seek relief from oppression.

Even though OBU’s population predominately contains students that have grown up in a country with freedom of religion, some students and alumni of Bison Hill are from European countries considered some of the most oppressed in the world.

For example, Ayoub Akil is a former student of Oklahoma Baptist University. His family is originally from Morocco, but an earthquake that left their home in ruins forced them to flee to Italy when Akil was still young.

After living in Italy for a while, his family relocated to France. Akil became a successful athlete in France running and playing soccer. He decided he wanted to study and compete simultaneously, which was not an option in France.

He began to search for an American university to compete and study in. OBU picked him up for his first few years in the United States, and he later finished his studies in New York at Long Island University.

Akil said even though he found freedom from political oppression stateside, he also witnessed Islamophobia. Akil discusses the struggles and experiences he has had as a Muslim in a foreign country sometimes wary of Islam.

“I have been discriminated [against] my whole life,” he said. “Did it affect me? Nope! It only made me stronger and a better person.”

Akil shared a specific story of the discrimination he faced in the States.

“One time I was flying back home [to France], and at the airport in Dallas one guy came by and tried to play it friendly. Once we were ready to board he asked me gently if I was going to blow up the aircraft and if so, could I just let him know and he would’ve stayed in the airport. [I] can’t be mad at that guy. He is ignorant… [I] just [have to] ignore them and keep on chasing your dreams and never let these stupid people tear you apart.”

Even though he has struggled through discrimination, Akil said he arrived in the States with a positive attitude.

“I felt comfortable [coming to the United States] because I didn’t come to the USA as an Arab that believes in Islam but as a young kid chasing a dream, and I just happened to be an Arabic kid who is Muslim. I am proud of who I am and in what I believe.”

While Akil came to the United States in the pursuit of happiness and fulfilled dreams, his faith was still personal to him.

He defended Islam, saying, “I am a Muslim because evidences [have] shown and proven by theologians that Islam is the right path to follow. Does it mean that I think that all those who aren’t Muslims need to be bombed? No, because religion is something personal. [It] is the type of relationship you build with God just like you build relationships with people.”

“I will always feel comfortable telling people that I am a Muslim,” he said. “It is a belief that is personal as I said before and if I can say that I believe that Justin Bieber is a good singer why shouldn’t I proudly say that I believe in Islam?”

Another Muslim living in Shawnee, nineteen-year-old Reza Kharati, also shared his story. He said his family emigrated from Iran to the United States two years ago.

“My mom won the green card lottery,” he said. “I only had one week to tell everyone goodbye before I came to America.”

As Kharati called his friends in Iran to inform them he would be leaving in a week, his friends thought he was joking at first. Other friends were jealous and decided to never speak to him again. Some friends were excited for him, telling him he was lucky, and that God loved him.

They told him to find the right way and make a good life for himself, he recalled.

Even though he and his family welcomed the move to the United States, overcoming culture shock was a real struggle for them.

Iran’s population is 99.4 percent Muslim, and Kharati’s family is no exception. Unlike in the United States, there is no equivalent to separation of church and state. Islam saturates every aspect of culture, society and government.

Adjusting to the culture of the United States took time.

According to Kharati, his family was accepted and welcomed here in America.

“People here are nice. [In] any country they have good people and bad people,” he said.
“[At my former job] the boss told me he knows I’m from the Middle East, but he knows that I am not a terrorist. I do not feel bad here because some people are accepting of Islam. They don’t say ‘why are you Muslim’ or ‘why are you in my country.’”

Kharati said he feels that there is social equality and freedom in the United States that makes it easier to express oneself.

“[Americans] don’t care if you are black or white or Muslim or Christian. You can make a good life,” he said.

In addition, he said he feels at ease here versus in Iran because the government follows a checks and balances system and gives the people a voice.

“If the people say something to the government, the government listens to them. My country is not like this. [In America] they do not care if you are the president or if you work for the government. You have to pay taxes; you are not shown favoritism. Here you can ask the president his salary. In my country you cannot do that. There is no honesty.”

Kharati said he hasn’t really experienced discrimination in the US, but he does worry about ever-changing immigration laws and how that might impact him in the future.

Despite the fear of being sent to Iran, Kharati said he loves living in America and compared it to Iran in terms of economic opportunities and political systems.

“In my country you cannot find a good job; you cannot have a good salary unless you are rich. It’s not good if you want to stay in my country,” he said.

Kharati said he loves his home country, but only recommends it for visiting and not for permanent residence.

“My country is beautiful and hospitable, but it is only good if you are a tourist and you go for one week or one month maximum in one year. You want to see it and then leave. It is not good if you want to live there. If you have a really nice job the maximum salary is going to be like $200 per month,” he said.

“Everything is expensive, but the salaries are low. Living is hard in our country. Here I feel good because I am free. If I work one month here I can buy everything for my house; I can pay for my gas; I can pay for my clothes; I can pay for my bills. In my country if I work for one month maybe I can pay for my bills and my gas. So here is better.”

The economic stability was a nice change from Iran, but the youth culture of the United States was a shocking change, he said. Kharati had an uncle and three cousins in the United States, so he had some idea of American cultural values, but his views were also influenced by Hollywood.


“The Greatest Showman” is an inspiring film for all

By Zoya Timoshenko, Contributing Writer   (Courtesy Photo)

Hugh Jackman thundered into the lives of Americans this Christmas season with the vivacious show we have all been waiting for.

A star-studded cast of Michelle Williams, Zendaya, and Zac Efron opened “The Greatest Showman” December 8, 2017. The musical is inspired by PT Barnum, the inventor of the circus in the United States in the late 1800s.

The show entertains its audience with energy as flying trapezists, tricksters jumping off dangerous objects and strategically choreographed and colorfully dressed dancers fill the screen.

In addition, the musical successfully ingrained its iconic soundtrack into the ears of every American fan. And while it is both aesthetically and euphonically pleasing, the show also powerfully displays American societal values through strong themes within the storyline.


One such American value is the journey of poverty to prosperity. In the musical, PT Barnum was or-phaned at a young age and grew up homeless. PT survived by stealing food to eat and old newspapers to resell. He married a woman from a wealthy family named Charity.

Charity was an easygoing soul without the grandiose dreams of wealth and prestige her elite family had for her. Barnum, however, was passionate about providing a prosperous and wealthy life for his wife and two daughters.

Although Barnum lived the first half of his life in poverty, he persevered with the entrepreneur spirit of an opportunist.

He lived the American dream of prosperity by promoting himself from rags to riches through the invention of the circus.

Even through his success he experienced many trials. However, after Barnum established his business empire, he lost everything in a fire.

His creativity led him to the idea of performing a circus show in a tent. The tent circus became a sensation for years in the United States.

Another American value presented in the musical is equality. The movie is set in the 1800s during a time when racial equality was lacking and when “freaks” were not welcome to walk the streets.

In the musical Barnum ‘s circus features an array of people consid-ered outcasts by their society. There are blacks, a woman with a beard, a midget, a man with a face completely full of hair, and yet another man with a face completely illustrated with tattoos.

In the musical, Barnum and his entertainers are invited to entertain the Queen of England. As the entertain-ers enter the throne room, they are introduced as Mr. Barnum’s “oddi-ties.” Throughout the whole musical, Barnum’s museum has protesters vehemently opposing the entertainers from being paid employees and in the public eye.

Barnum counter-culturally accepts the entertainers despite their nontraditional appearance. He gives them an opportunity to make a living, see the world, and show off their talent. When he meets his entertainers for the first time, they are shy and insecure.

Toward the end of the movie the characters are bold and confident. In the face of a protest they march boldly proclaiming, “When the sharpest words/ wanna cut me down/ I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out/ I am brave, I am bruised/ I am who I’m meant to be, this is me/ Look out ’cause here I come/ And I’m marching on to the beat I drum/ I’m not scared to be seen/ I make no apologies, this is me.”

The musical shows PT Barnum as someone who loved and respected people no matter their race, gender, or their appearance. He provided oppor-tunities for people for the outcast and minority. He respected them for their character instead of the labels his so-ciety stuck to them.


The story was powerful and impactful, but the music made it memorable. The soundtrack came out ranking No. 71 on the Billboard charts and has since exponentially shot to the top. It has found success not only in the United States but also in other countries like Australia and England.

All eleven songs weaved inspiration through the hearts of its audience. The opening song sends a thrill of an exciting circus that defies possibility. Hugh Jackman opens with a chorus illustrating the circus scene.

“Where it’s covered in all the colored lights/ Where the runaways are running the night/ Impossible comes true, it’s taking over you/ …We light it up, we won’t come down/ And the sun can’t stop us now/ Watching it come true, it’s taking over you/ Oh, this is the greatest show.”

The songs carry meaning beyond just a good beat. “A Million Dreams” tells the story of a child in poverty imagining a life of comfort and innocence.

“This is Me” boldly proclaims the courage and perseverance of a group of people bullied and ostracized their entire lives. Every other song carries a similar theme.

To embrace individuality, to treat people with respect no matter who they are, and to dream big.


In addition to an impressive storyline and a catchy soundtrack, The Greatest Showman also impressed in costume design. The costume designer, Ellen Mirojnick, is the one of the best in her field. In an interview with Women’s Wear Daily Mirojnick said, “I am really a crystal freak.”

Indeed, she is; she used 60,000 Swarovski crystals throughout the costumes.

Zendaya dazzled in her royal purple one-piece as she gracefully flew over the circus one rope at a time. Hugh Jackman’s red showman jacket fit with authority and leadership as he spun the circus into life.

The Bearded Woman’s dress glides to the nuances of a song as she moves across the floor, leading her squad into another powerful performance. The costumes bring to life the characters’ disposition.


The musical did not open with exceptional success. It’s first week made only $8 million. But like the perseverance of its characters however, the musical has worked itself up to become the sixth biggest musical hit in the box office domestically since 1974.

In Hollywood culture it is rare for a musical to open with only $8 million in the first weekend but then jump to be the sixth biggest musical hit.

In addition, the show has already been nominated for multiple awards. Hugh Jackman was nominated for the Golden Globe Awards Best Actor, and Ellen Mirojnick is nominated for the Costume Designers Guild Award for Best Costume Design.

The film was nominated for Golden Globe Best Motion Picture, Empire Award for Costume Design, Empire Award for Best Make-Up and Hairstyling.

An iconic track called “This is Me” was nominated for the Academy Award Best Original Song and won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song.


“The Greatest Showman” was exhilarating! It is appropriate and entertaining for all ages. The characters are inspirational. Their love for each other and their gutsy attitude to fight through societal standards and live a life of freedom will leave everyone wanting to reevaluate the way they treat people around them.

The presentation of the show entertains with lively colors and the action of talented performers. The soundtrack is the kind even your boyfriend will want to download and sing along to on the way home from the theater.

So, pop some popcorn this weekend and sit back to watch the greatest show by the greatest showman!