Understanding Islam’ Topic of Thursday Speech

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Islam has been on the forefront of public attention, according to Bernard Weiss, professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Utah.

Iqbal Hossain, instructor in the department of sociology, and Tahera Qutbuddin, assistant professor of Arabic literature, were the other members of a discussion panel titled, “Understanding Islam,” at the Hinckley Institute of Politics Thursday. It was broadcasted on KUER radio.

The purpose of the discussion was to bring about an understanding of an otherwise misunderstood religion in a time of difficulties, according to Weiss.

“The attention directed towards Islam has not always been good,” he said. Ignorance about Islam has lead to some incidents of hate in the United States.

According to Weiss, understanding Islam, the religion of more than seven million Americans, is one of the most important things we can do in these times.

Hossain, former president of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake, spoke about the terrorist attacks from two perspectives: as a human being and as a Muslim.

“As a human being, I’m shocked by the violence of the attacks,” he said. “As a Muslim, I’m appalled by the actions of a desperate group of people who act in the name of Islam.”

According to Hossain, those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks are guilty on the counts of suicide and killing the innocent under Islamic law.

In Islam, if you take the life of an innocent person, “it is as if you killed all of humanity,” Hossain said. “There is no political rhetoric or ideological persuasion that could reverse this law.”

Hossain quoted the Quran, the holy book of Muslims, saying there was no compulsion in religion. He also cited Muhammad, the founder of the Islamic faith, as having told his followers, “Beware of extremism?It is that which has destroyed nations before you.”

As an American, Hossain was “ashamed of the stereotypes and prejudices that have been used against Islam.” Stories of vandals throwing pigs’ blood on a Muslim mosque, commercial airlines rejecting people of Mid Eastern descent and other examples of violence were among his concerns.

Adding to the topic, Qutbuddin spoke about Islam through a woman’s perspective.

“The experience of being a Muslim woman is one of the most misunderstood issues,” she said.

Qutbuddin, who received her doctorate in Arabic and Islamic studies from Harvard University, discussed the importance of “distinguishing between religious and cultural factors.”

According to Qutbuddin, the Quran puts man and woman on equal spiritual footing. Mary, mother of Jesus, and Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, are examples of women praised both in the Quran and throughout the Islamic world, she said.

Furthermore, Muslim women have just as much right as Muslim men for education, ownership of property and running for public office, Qutbuddin said.

The misunderstanding comes in the perception of different cultures, like that of the Taliban in Afghanistan, she said, which have no legitimacy in the Islamic religion. Culture and society can also shape the actions of others in terms of terrorism according to Hossain.

In an attempt to figure out the motives of the terrorists, Hossain addressed many U.S. foreign policy issues around the world, such as “the unqualified support of Israel” or the sanctions against Iraq. According to United Nations data, more than 500,000 children have died because of those sanctions.

“None can justify killing innocent people,” he said. “But it is plausible to me that they create a deep sense of injustice.”

According to Hossain, some can use these issues and “fuel them with religion” to justify terrorist actions. In order to defeat terrorism, it is essential to bring about justice by eliminating the root of desperation, he said.

Timothy McVeigh was not representing Christianity, as such, “there is no such thing as Islamic terrorism,” Hossain said. “Terrorism is terrorism.”

“I am optimistic,” he said in regards to the public having a better understanding of Islam. “If we have changed the minds of just five people, it is a victory.”

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