What's it like to be a Muslim immigrant in Nebraska?

“Somewhere in all of our pasts are immigrants,” said Sabrina Riley, Union College Library director. “These are not the stories that we typically think about, but they are similar to many American families’ histories. I am really excited to hear them.”

The Union College Library’s Muslim Journeys series continues with a panel presentation by Muslim Americans living in Lincoln. "American Stories" will be presented on June 20, 2013, at 7 p.m. at the Center for People in Need and moderated by Chris Blake, associate Professor of English and communication at Union College.

Featuring stories and reflections from many local immigrants, the discussion will center on the question, “What’s it like to be a Muslim in Lincoln, Nebraska?”

“It’s a great opportunity to learn from people and prize and appreciate the differences among us,” said Blake. “It’s good to know who your neighbor is and to remember that really, we’re all neighbors. Even those who live across the globe.”

Speakers from an array of countries and backgrounds make up the panel, many of who play active roles in their communities. Zainab Al-Baaj, Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Hope Project coordinator at the Good Neighbor Center in Lincoln, has spent years helping refugees settle into life in the U.S. She and her family came to Lincoln in 1994 to escape war in Iraq and are now all American citizens.

“We try to keep our culture, language and religion,” said Al-Baaj in an interview with Gabriel Medina Arenas for Nebraska Mosaic, an online project of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications that seeks to give voice to Lincoln’s growing refugee communities. “Those are the most important things for us. But we have adapted some good things from the American culture and mixed it with our own culture. Here we have learned to be more open-minded and listen more to others.”

Also from Iraq, Nizar Zhaiya worked as a translator for the U.S. Army from 1991 until he was evacuated from the country in 1996. He continues to work as a freelance interpreter and translator and is pleased to join the panel in the interfaith initiative.

Fareda Ebrahim came to the U.S. in 1991 and completed all of her higher education in Lincoln. Now a safety specialist at UNL, she plays an active role in the Afghan Renascent Youth Association (ARYA), an organization she founded with her cousin in 2001 to help orphans and widows of wars in Afghanistan and educate the local community about Afghanistan, its people and Islam.

Representing diverse viewpoints from within Islam, the panelists will answer questions about their personal stories and experiences in being refugees and living in Lincoln. “I’m always interested in interfaith dialogue,” said Blake. “I think it’s part of peacemaking. As we get to know each other we become less afraid of people.”

The Muslim Journeys series is part of a larger project at Union College called “Bridging Cultures.”

“The purpose of all these programs is to build understanding between faiths,” said Riley. “Knowing where people come from and understanding them is important, particularly when dealing with prejudice.”

In January 2013 the Union College Library was awarded the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Muslim Journeys Bookshelf, a collection of scholarly and literary books, films, and online resources designed to generate community discussion and understanding of Islam. During the 2013-2014 academic year, in partnership with the Good Neighbor Community Center and Union College’s Center for Interfaith Studies and Culture, the library is sponsoring a series of events encouraging members of the community to read and participate in discussions about the themes represented in the Bookshelf.

“American Stories” represents just one of the six themes of the Bookshelf, which also includes connected histories, literary reflections, pathways of faith, points of view and art, architecture and film.

A complete list of resources included in the Bookshelf is available on the library website and on Pinterest. Union College Library offers community borrower cards to residents of Lincoln who provide two forms of ID verifying the patron’s current address (one ID should include a photograph).

The Center for People in Need is located at 3901 North 27th Street, Unit 1, in Lincoln, and the event is free and open to the public.