By Jenny Johnson
His mother was sitting on the ground huggingthe television, praying. It was the day of 9/11. Soufiane Bouchikhi recalls his mother’s fears.
“She was crying because she knew Americans were going to blame Muslims for this,” he said. “She knew they would say bad things, false things, about Islam.”
Bouchikhi, a native to Belgium, was raised Muslim his whole life and said his parents taught him everything he knows about the faith. He has never been interested in another religion, but has respect for religions different than his own.
He said he thinks the biggest problem between religions is that there is no understanding among religions. He wishes that somehow there could be a common understanding or at least some dialogue among different faiths.
And this past month, Eastern celebrated the Islamic holiday Ramadan in an attempt to accomplish a similar goal of inter-faith dialogue.
According to the Quran, “Ramadan is the month during which the Quran was revealed, providing guidance for the people, clear teaching and the statute book.”
The Quran explains that observers of Ramadan should fast the whole month, but those who are ill or traveling may substitute the same number of days during a different period.
The Muslim Student Association at Eastern hosted an evening meal to celebrate this religious practice and invited Dr. Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic studies at University of Kentucky and board member of the council on American-Islamic relations, to speak on the importance of Ramadan to Muslims.
Bouchikhi attended this event; however, because he is on the track team at Eastern, he chose to fulfill his duty to Ramadan differently.
First, because he needs to eat in order to have enough energy to perform for his sport, he did not fast this month. Nevertheless, he will fast when he is on winter break and is able. Also, because he is choosing to fast at a different time, Bouchikhi’s family is giving money to the poor in his name, because one goal of Ramadan is to realize the need of the poor. Because Bouchikhi cannot physically empathize with the poor, he said he will support them financially.
While at Eastern, Bouchikhi considers himself a moderate Muslim because he doesn’t have the time or opportunity to have total dedication to the religious practices.
For instance, it is a religious practice in Islam to pray five times a day. Bouchikhi lives in a residence hall at school and said he doesn’t practice praying because of his living conditions.
“I wouldn’t want to make my roommate uncomfortable and I want to act normal,” he said.
Bouchikhi said in Belgium, he would go to mosque and pray with his family. However, he hasn’t been to a mosque since he’s been in Kentucky. At the mosque in Belgium, Bouchikhi said he would pray for forgiveness and to be allowed into heaven.
“You will feel peace there,” he said. “It is a good place to empty your mind. Some pray just to be seen. When I pray, I want to be in view of God.”
Also, Bouchikhi said there are different challenges in college, such as the way women dress, that challenge him from being fully committed to his faith, because in Islam, it is a sin to even look lustfully at a woman.
“It’s just really hard and I’m not ready for that yet, to be solely focused on the religion,” he said.
Religion has more impact on Bouchikhi’s social life. He said he has only been to two or three parties with friends since being at Eastern and chooses not to go anymore.
“Everyone says you can’t have fun without drinking,” he said. “That isn’t true.”
Bouchikhi said he doesn’t drink because of his religion, but also because he’s noticed it has caused so many problems.
Bouchikhi said it may be better for his religion to be home with his family and able to focus on his religion, but he is enjoying his time in America.
“I really like the U.S. because I’ve made so many friends in a short time,” he said. “In Belgium, people are not this social. It is also hard because I miss my family, especially my mom.”
Bouchikhi quoted the prophet Muhammad, “Your heaven lies under the feet of your mother.”
Bouchikhi wears a ring on his pinky finger that his mother gave him. This ring reminds him of his mother and gives his mother peace that he is wearing it. He said she has taught him most of what it means to be a Muslim.
Bouchikhi said as a child, his parents did not force him and his siblings to do anything, but only taught about the religion and prayed for them. In this way, Bouchikhi was able to make decisions and gain convictions concerning the faith on his own, such as observing laws and praying.
He remembers the image of his mother crying after 9/11 and is disheartened that violent acts like that happen.
Commenting on the current news about Ground Zero, Bouchikhi said he doesn’t agree that a mosque should be placed there; however, he is in favor for a Muslim Community Center to be built near the site.
“It is always good to teach about religion, education,” he said. “It’s always good to bring people together and talk about what’s good and what’s not good.’
Conversations with friends are not normally about religion. He said especially with unbelievers, it is hard to start up a conversation about God. However, he said he thinks religion is a matter of the heart.
“You don’t believe with your mouth, you believe from your heart,” he said. “Being a Muslim is inside the heart: believing in God and being a good person.