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Muslim women to speak at UNM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Ten Muslim women plan to answer the public’s questions about their Islamic faith despite their fears of speaking in front of a potentially hostile audience at the University of New Mexico.

The free event titled Muslim Women Speak will be from 1-3 p.m. Sunday at the UNM Student Union Building, Ballroom A and B.

Kathy Ahghar spoke at a previous Muslim Women Speak event in Santa Fe earlier this month. The crowd, she said, was inquisitive, especially curious why some of the 10 panelists wore headscarves while some, like Ahghar, didn’t.

The audience was calm and kind, but she said she still has reservations about the upcoming Sunday talk given the recent anti-Muslim rhetoric in the nation. Arguably most notable, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslim immigrants entering the United States.

“I am disappointed Americans are listening to his rhetoric,” Ahghar said. “But I don’t want to live my life being afraid.”

Travel writer Judith Fein said she created the lecture series to provide a direct counterpoint to blatant prejudice against Muslims in America and worldwide. Fein said the Muslims she has met worldwide bear no resemblance to the stereotypes.

“If we don’t do something about the problem, we’re part of the problem,” Fein said.

Panelists vary in age and cultural backgrounds. Some were born Muslim, others, including Ahghar, converted. Another speaker, Sarah Rahman, is a black woman who grew up in eastern Texas before converting to Islam.

The Santa Fe event drew an overflow crowd of hundreds of people. Fein said she had to deny entry to some to avoid a fire hazard. She expects a similar crowd at the UNM event. Security guards will be present as a precautionary measure.

Audience members are expected to write their questions on note cards, and the panelists will take turns answering them. Fein scheduled two hours for the talk, but Ahghar and Fein said many audience members at the Santa Fe talk remained after the formal event to ask the panelists follow-up questions.