Credit: Wayne Witkoski at The Pocono Record
Leila Bouchakouk, a senior at East Stroudsburg High School South and graduate of Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, returned to the club to give a presentation she has given many times to other groups on her Muslim religion, Islam.
She also had spoken to the club previously on another subject of which she is well versed – diabetes. She is a Type 1 Diabetic who wears an insulin pump.
Bouchakouk also has been a lead delegate for the past three years of East Stroudsburg South’s United Nations Academic Inpact ASPIRE (Action by Students to Promote Innovation and Reform through Education) , a social justice and global citizenship student group. East Stroudsburg South is the first high school group in the world to be given ASPIRE status by the United Nations Academic Impact among 900 UNAI member institutions in more than 100 countries. UNAI is a global initiative launched by then Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in 2010 to align institutions of higher education with the UN.
Bouchakouk, an Algerian-American, talked about the tenets of her religion in her efforts to clarify the misperceptions of some that it advocates chaos and terrorism.
“Terrorists aren’t Muslims and Muslims aren’t terrorists,” she said to the Rotary gathering at its noontime Thursday weekly luncheon at Sycamore Grille in Delaware Water Gap. “We don’t support these actions whatsoever.”
When asked by Rotarian Bob Wehe about the notion of “jihad” being a Muslim response linked to terrorist attacks, Bouchakouk said the action is taken only against oppressors. Rotary member Ramlah Vahanvaty, also a Muslim who was at the meeting, pointed out that jihad is an action taken under a Muslim prophet and that there are no Muslim prophets in the world today.
Bouchakouk actually said the word Muslim is derived for a word meaning peace. She has been able to encounter international thinking on many subjects, including that one, as a lead delegate of UNI ASPIRE in symposiums at the UN where she has visited seven times.
Bouchakouk appeared pleased afterward about the reception she received from the Rotary membership, a few of whom also are Muslim or versed on Muslim ideology.
“Most people are open to learn more and want to learn more (about it),” Bouchakouk said afterward. “I love to get questions about my religion. I try to answer them and if I don’t know, I look to find out and get back to that person with an answer.”
“She inspires in me great hope for the future,” Wehe said to the membership as he introduced Bouchakouk as the speaker.
Bouchakouk said her religion professes “service above self” with many observances based on helping others who may have greater need. She said it is a fast growing religion in the United States and there were 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide counted in a 2010 census. She said primary ideals are worshiping one God, prayer, giving in charity, fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia each year.
Prayers are said five times a day. The holy season of Ramadan, which takes place the ninth month of the year. calls for fasting from food and drink in daylight hours and from bad habits. It begins on June 18 this year.
It is the first religion to put women with equal rights as men, she said. “It sees the same spirit in women as in men.”
Interestingly, the religion also recognizes Jesus Christ and prophets from all religions, including its own where Muhammad, born in 570 A.D. who lived to the age of 63, is revered as its last prophet. Bouchakouk said the religion’s holy book, the Quran which Muhammad professed, presents many ideas and ideals of Islam ahead of other religions and cultures.
As she closed her speech, Bouchakouk quoted Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai. Bouchakouk was chosen to attend to be among 600 youth from over 80 countries around the world for Malala Day at the UN, Yousafzai’s first public appearance since being shot by the Taliban for advocating for women’s education in Pakistan.
Bochakouk quoted the laureate that the Muslin religion “is peace, humanity and brotherhood.” And added from her “It is not only each child’s right to get an education. It is their responsibility.”
Rotarians also gained further education and insight into the Muslin religion after Bouchakouk’s speech.
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