Face of Islam: Pursuing an American Dream

By Matt Porter

May 9, 2013 Updated May 9, 2013 at 6:05 PM EST

Vestal, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Although a majority of the world's Muslims live outside the United States, local members of the religion say it's easiest to practice on American soil.

Your neighborhood doctor
Radiation oncologist Doctor Rashid Haq spends his days working to save lives from cancer.

He's troubled that Muslims like him are sometimes labeled as anti-American or extremist.

"It's a disappointment that Muslims in general were being characterized as people who were similar to these people who committed these crimes, these terrorist acts," Haq said.

The son of Indian immigrants, Haq was born in Connecticut and raised in Syracuse.

He said Muslim Americans are not different Americans.

"People that go to the mosque in Johnson City," Haq said, "Have very much the same fears and aspirations that their neighbors do."

He has two daughters, one just beginning elementary school.

In many countries, including Muslim ones, girls have less access to education.

Haq has high hopes for his kids knowing they will have the best chance to succeed in America.

"It certainly is a big plus that you have that opportunity for your daughters," he said, "And they can succeed, and do succeed."

Changing Faiths
Kathleen Al-Jallad grew up a devout Irish Catholic in Binghamton.

She wanted to be a nun.

But when she was 25 years old and working in Lourdes Hospital, she saw a Muslim doctor washing his hands and feet before praying.

The image of the man falling to his knees for God touched Al-Jallad.

"The idea that you're prostrating to God and later on finding out that you do it at least five times a day really struck a chord in me," Al-Jallad said.

She spent a year studying the religion before she officially switched in 1986.

Al-Jallad noted that in many countries, Muslims are restricted in practice, including in Muslim countries.

She said many come to the United States for refuge.

"I think America's the easiest place to practice Islam, and correctly," she said.

Al-Jallad wears a long black gown with a bright teal floral patterned headscarf.

She said the Islamic dress doesn't make her feel oppressed.

"This, it's just a piece of cloth," Al-Jallad said. "Why are the American people so threatened by it?"

In Islam, men and women are asked to dress modestly.

Women are asked to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothing that cover their body down to their feet.

Men are also asked to wear loose fitting clothing, although they can wear knee-high shorts. Some wear hats and also grow beards to cover some of their face.

Al-Jallad said no woman should be forced to cover, and that the decision is always between the person and God.

"There's a lot of Muslim women in America that don't cover," she said, "So that should tell people right away that it's our choice."

As for fears that Muslims want to wage Jihad, or what some call a holy war, against non-Muslims, she said the word Jihad only means struggle.

"The struggle is the struggle within ourselves," Al-Jallad said, "To get closer to God, to hopefully earn paradise. It's not to kill people."

She said Muslims practice Jihad when they work to pray better, to fast better, to be more giving.

Extremists, she said, have warped the religion's -- and the word's -- meaning.

"They take Islam away from us," Al-Jallad said, "They ruin it for Americans, they ruin it for us."

She said it is up to the rest of the Muslim community to take it back. And it's up to Americans to broaden their acceptance.