Muslim Sisters Club at TRU spreads understanding and tolerance

They are eager to inform, educate and teach people about their beliefs.

They choose to follow their religion just like anyone else, with the strength of their faith and the conviction of their spirits.

And while Muslim women studying at Thompson Rivers University are almost always met with respect and efforts at understanding, every once in a while they encounter someone who has fallen for stereotype over fact.

Like the English as a second language teacher encountered by Lamyaa Alshenrifi, who said Muslim women are rude for not shaking hands. Alshenrifi didn't have enough English to explain that in her culture, women can shake hands with other women, but not with men who are not family.

And the instructor wouldn't allow her the time to tell her side.

"If the teacher could give us the time to explain, and be respectfull . . . " she said.

May Almohanna picked up her thought.

"When you face that kind of situation, it really hurts. Because you really love your religion," she said.

Without the words to take on a wrongful accusation "it just burns you up inside," she added.

Hayfaa Golabkhan came up with the idea for the Muslim Sisters Club, which was created just recently and has 35 members so far. Unlike most of the Muslim women on campus, who are from Saudi Arabia, she is from Mauritius off the southeast coast of Africa.

It was a way to get better involved with the university on campus.

"It's not only to show our own culture, it's to share my ways of helping people," she said.

Some of the women met through TRU's Muslim Student Association, or networked on Facebook.

Last week, they held their first event - a lunch presentation about being Muslim women with lots of time to answer questions and clear up misconceptions.

About 30 people - five of them men - gathered in the TRU Student Union boardroom to break bread (pizza, actually) and learn more about life as a Muslim woman living in Kamloops.

They heard from five hijab-wearing women who hold their religion dear, but who choose how they live.

"I choose to wear what I wear. I choose Muslimism," said Alshenrifi, who has been at TRU for one year. She wore a T-shirt with I love (heart) Islam for the occasion, topped by a long-sleeved sweater. And a hijab to hide her hair.

Dima Alsadoon asked for four volunteers to come forward. Four women - all of them white - were draped with hijabs to wear for the duration of the presentation to experience how it feels.

The scarf is worn to cover the hair, but there are no rules governing how it is draped or tied, said Almohanna.

It keeps women safe, taking away the element of sexuality, and so they are respected for their minds and personalities.

"A Muslim woman expects respect by it," she said.

The hijab isn't worn all the time, but it is donned when a woman is among men who are not family members, she explained.

Those four women who tried out hijabs during the lunch commented afterward about how it felt.

Their answers ranged from good, to cozy, to hot, to restricting in peripheral vision.

Alsadoon asked if it changed who they were.

One woman said she was aware of the hijab, but no, she was the same. Another said she felt more anonymous. A third wondered if it would stay on if she was doing yoga.

One woman said she would be interested to see how it felt after wearing the hijab for a week, especially in different social settings.

Almohanna said club members want to hold more events to further understanding about what it means to be Muslim and a woman.

All five of the 'sisters' involved in the presentation said they would gladly answer questions people have regarding their religion, especially if it meant clearing up myths and misunderstandings.

One had some extra advice.

"Don't trust Wikipedia," said Safiya Alshibani.

Muslims do adapt to the Canadian lifestyle to varying degrees, but it's different for each person, she said.

"Religion and culture are very connected," she said, adding she has gone from wearing black clothing in Saudi Arabia to the bright pink outfit she had on as she spoke in Kamloops.

"Here colour is the rule."

Alsadoon came to Kamloops two days after she got married in Saudi Arabia. She has been here since 2009 and will go back in another year, with her degree and a baby as well.

Because she has spent virtually all her married life in Canada, she's not certain how that will change when she returns to a more traditional setting.

But her experience in Canada has been good. Except for a homeless man she ran across in Victoria. He saw her hijab and asked her if she was Jewish.

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