Growing up in Lebanon, Fetna Mikati knew the horrors of war and senseless acts of violence.
Before she and her husband, Fadel, moved to America and settled in Kent, their son, then 2 years old, became so accustomed to the sounds of bombs that he started dancing to the explosions.
“I have vivid memories of bombs and killings and trying to run away,” she said.
So when the attacks on America happened the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Mikati felt the pain and loss of the victims and their families on a personal level.
“It was devastating,” she recalled.
Her fellow Arab-American and Muslim friends shared those feelings of sadness and grief, along with the fear their religion would be misunderstood as a result of the attacks, she said.
“We had the obligation to tell others and explain to them, ‘This is not us. We are not like this. Muslims are not like this. These are not our teachings or beliefs,’ ” she said.
“There always will be some extremists wherever you are.”
Mikati, 46, coordinator of the Arabic language program at Kent State University and a teacher at Roosevelt High School, never faced any personal attacks because of her ethnicity or religion after 9/11. But she knew stereotypes persisted.
When her daughter was in sixth grade several years after the attacks, she overheard some classmates making hurtful jokes about a substitute teacher who donned the traditional head covering some Muslim women wear.
“We have a terrorist today subbing for us,” the children said.
To address misconceptions about Arab people and the religion of Islam, Mikati has been presenting workshops for area schools, the Kent State University ROTC program and other community groups since 2002.
“I try anytime there is a possibility to educate people and correct some of the stereotypes they had,” she said. “This is my duty to educate.”
In those workshops, she highlights the similarities among Islam, Christianity and Judaism. She dispels the concept of a “holy war,” which she said does not exist in Islam. It is clear in the sacred book of Quran that followers are expected to respect other people’s religion and not force them to change their beliefs.
She explains that the term “jihad” — an Arabic word that means “struggle” — is often misused.
There are three types of jihad, she said: personal, verbal and physical. The most important is the personal jihad, which refers to personal struggle against temptation.
The physical jihad is only allowed in cases of self-defense, when provoked, not to attack others without cause, she said.
She also teaches that Islam is a religion of peace that strictly opposes violence.
Mikati said the Quran includes this saying: “If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the whole of humanity. And if you kill one innocent soul, it is as if you have killed the whole of humanity.”
Another major misconception she has tried to dispel is that Arabs hate Americans.
“The Arab people make a big distinction between the American people and the government policies,” she said. “They don’t like some of the policies that are unfair to the Arab people.”
When she was a child in Lebanon, she said, she grew up watching Dallas on TV and American movies such as Grease at the movie theaters.
“When I was growing up, it was the land of opportunities,” she said of her view of America back then. “There was never any sort of hatred. … There is no hatred, even today.”
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or email@example.com.