World Peace Day should remind citizens that inclusiveness overcomes intolerance, a theme reflected throughout history, said Malaka Elyazgi, Gov. Brad Henry's Ethnic American Advisory Council chairwoman.
Elyazgi was one of three panelists to lead the "My America, My Islam" forum. Panelists spoke to a crowd of more than 130 people Tuesday night in the Oklahoma Memorial Union's Regents Room.
Elyazgi said 9/11 was a wake-up call for her and for many American Muslims.
"I didn't understand how someone could claim and adhere to the same beliefs that I do and do something so horrific," she said. "It was something that caused all Muslims to not only feel depressed about what happened but to not understand how someone could take our peaceful religion and do as such."
The panel discussion and Q-and-A session focused on the state of Islam in America and related current events such as the New York Islamic center controversy; OU's department of Middle East studies, led by Professor Joshua Landis; and the Women's and Gender Studies' Center for Social Justice sponsored the event.
Muslims in the Middle East see Americans through presidents, troops and Hollywood, journalist and international public speaker Mona Eltahawy said.
"Is that how you want to be portrayed to the rest of the world? For those who don't understand Americans, you can combine that triangle and understand how fear and suspicion comes up," Eltahawy said.
Eltahawy is the Center for Social Justice's activist-in-residence this semester.
Mohamed Daadaoui, assistant professor of political science for Oklahoma City University, joined Elyazgi and Eltahawy on the panel.
"A lot of what we know about Islam here in this country is what we see in the media and the news: conflict, the Taliban, al-Qaida, religious and political tolerance and so forth. But this is something we can change through the educational process and the political process to try to counteract what comes from the radical right," he said.
Students, professors and community members came to see another side of Islam.
"I'm building my thesis about Islamic perceptions in America. This panel was extremely enlightening. I thought all the speakers were so knowledgeable and objective," said Xaina Alghabra, journalism graduate student.
Many audience members stayed after the panel ended to further discuss issues with the panelists.