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Somalians share message of modesty
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Cultures connect via video during OSUM session


By KURT MOORE
Thursday, February 12, 2009

A panel of Ohio State University students from Somalia talk about their culture Wednesday with students at OSU's Delaware and Marion campuses via a video conference. 

A panel of Ohio State University students from Somalia talk about their culture Wednesday with students at OSU's Delaware and Marion campuses via a video conference. (The Marion Star/Bill Sinden)

MARION - Sometimes a whole discussion can be narrowed down to four words.

Omar Ali, a Somalian Ohio State University at Marion student, did that during a Somalian student panel discussion held on Wednesday.

"We are human beings," he said.

Ali and other Somalian students at The Ohio State University at Marion Delaware Center took part in the panel discussion that was shared with the Marion Campus via video conferencing. About 25 people took part in Morrill Hall while Ohio State-Marion diversity director Shawn Jackson said he was told students and faculty filled the Delaware conference room.

The discussion, which was part of local Black History Month events, dealt with subjects such as customs and how Somalian immigrants are treated by other Americans.

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The students, Ali, Bargadle Egal, Miski Sheik-Ahmed, Idil Adam, Deqa Mahammed and Amal Mohamed, answered questions such as whether it is optional for women to wear a scarf over their heads.

"The reason we do wear scarves is it represents modesty," said Adam. Fellow female students said that, religiously, it is not an option though parents at a certain age may let their daughters decide for themselves.

Ohio has the second largest Somali population in the nation and an estimated more than 40,000 Somali refuges call Columbus home, according to a 2007 speech to Columbus City Council by Somali Community Association of Ohio President Hassan Omar.

Asked why so many Somalians come to the area, panelists said its because of the kinship of the Somalians that come here.

"That's how it populates," said Mohamed. "Next thing you know, BAM, we are all in one state."

The panelists talked about how many leave their country because of the ongoing civil war that has left Somalia with no national government.

They talked about inappropriate body language, such as how Muslims consider it rude if someone wags a finger at them or how males are not to shake a female's hand. They said a female is also not to look long into a male's eyes unless the male is a relative.

Sheik-Ahmed said that doesn't mean that other students should think just because they aren't very forward or talkative at first that they are shy or do not want to be befriended.

"The reason why is our religion teaches us we should be modest," she said. "Some people may take it the wrong way."

Marion resident Earlean Hatch asked if it was all right for Americans to embrace Muslims in friendship.

"We encourage that," said Mohamed. "Come say hi to me, hug me, ask me about my day."

"Just because we are covered up doesn't mean we are rude," said Mahammed.

Panelists also spoke to what they said is a common misconception that Muslims have a different God than Christians or Jews.

"Allah means 'the one and true God,'" said Sheik-Ahmed.

"We are all from one God," said Egal. "We are all God's children."

Reporter Kurt Moore: 740-375-5151 or [email protected]



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