“As-Salam-Alikum” is a greeting in the Muslim faith when you meet a friend or even a stranger, and the response is “Wa-Alikum-as-Salam.” This means “Peace to you” and the response is “Peace also to you.”
Awni Alkarzon’s wife, Manal, told me she was pleasantly surprised to be greeted this way by someone while shopping in DeKalb. It turned out that person had spent some time in Saudi Arabia and knew that greeting.
When I inquired about the hijab worn by women of their faith from about the age of 14, I was told that this is the custom for most women to wear this head scarf when outside the home, even after they are married. But only in Saudi Arabia will you find the burka being worn, which covers all of the head except for the eyes.
The girls in the Alkarzon family said when they came to DeKalb in 2009 they were the only ones wearing a hijab at Jefferson School.
They were glad to have students inquire about their head scarves so they could explain.
Asked about the five-times-a-day prayers observed by Muslims, they said that the school here permits them to go to an empty library room at noon to pray and since there is clean carpeting in the room a prayer rug is not necessary. The other four times they pray are early morning before school, then right after school, at sunset, and later in the evening.
Ramadan is like the Christians’ season of Lent, and is observed from May 27 through June 24 this year, which falls in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
During this time, they fast from sun-up to sundown, but can partake of food and drink before dawn and after dark. At the end of Ramadan on June 25 they celebrate Eid al-Fitr when they join with other Muslim families in social activities. At that time, they often present gifts to the children and any married daughters, mostly money or gift cards.
They explained that they do not eat pork and others in the schools here have been helpful in pointing out any of the cafeteria food that may contain pork.
As I finished my interview, they served me a small cup of Arab coffee and a dish of dates from Saudi Arabia.
This is a custom in the home when someone visits. Awni explained that although these were from Arab countries, they also buy their dates and coffee here in local stores.
I look forward to seeing them again some Friday night when I am able to take part in the Network of Nations potluck. It is not only an opportunity for foreign students and their families to practice conversational English, but also a chance for us to learn about their countries and customs. Network of Nations has been a tremendous help in introducing Northern Illinois University’s foreign student population to the American way of life. Its founder Ruth Scott deserves lots of praise.
• Barry Schrader can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115.