WV: Arab-American Speaks About Culture, Misconceptions


HUNTINGTON -- Did you know many Arabs are not olive-skinned? Or that only 20 percent of Arab-Americans are Muslims? Do negative images come to mind when you hear the word "Arab?"

Regarding religion, Shora said Muslims consider themselves "the third chapter of a three-chapter book," the first two chapters being Judaism and Christianity. And, he adds, Muslims believe in Moses, Jesus and the Immaculate Conception.

"The Virgin Mary is mentioned more in the Koran than in the Bible," he said. "People are usually shocked to find that out."

Steve Hensley, Marshall's dean of student affairs, said the seminar was primarily for Marshall faculty and staff.

"This was for people who interact with foreign students regularly," he said. "Often, it's in situations that are difficult, such as payment of bills and registration."

Shora explained that the Arabic word "jihad" means "struggle," not "holy war," but the word has been hijacked by terrorists groups to justify attacking innocent civilians. "Lesser jihad" or "defensive jihad" refers to a military stand against the enemies of religion, but is meant to be a call to arms if the religion is under attack and threatened with annihilation.

"The last true lesser or defensive jihad I can think of would be in the 12th century, with Saladin battling the Crusaders," he said.

Appearances and the Americanization of names mean that many more people in the United States are Arab than you might think.

Sally Tweel, wife of the late owner of Jim's Steak & Spaghetti House and a friend of the Shora family who attended the seminar, knows about that -- and revealed that it was her biology teacher in junior or senior high school in Beckley, W.Va., who Americanized "Salwa," her first name.

"He couldn't remember it," said Tweel, a Welch, W.Va., native of Lebanese descent. "He asked me if I minded if he called me 'Sally.' "

Shora, 29, who graduated from Marshall University in 1997 and the West Virginia University College of Law in 2001, is founder and CEO of Shora Arab, Muslim, Sikh Training & Development LLC, an Alexandria, Va., consulting firm. His father is chief of the gastroenterology section of Marshall's Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

 


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