Last Thursday, Knox’s Islamic Club hosted a forum to address many misconceptions people have about the religion of Islam. The discussion of “Islam Talks” was held in Ferris Lounge and was led by Political Science professor Bob Seibert, Economics professor Roy Andersen and co-president of the Islamic Club, sophomore Rana Tahir.
The three major misconceptions that were addressed in the talk were that Islam is a violent religion, Islam oppresses women and Islam is a culture and not just a religion. Discussion was open to all members who attended the talk, which was comprised of students and several faculty members.
Misconceptions about Islam date back to the end of the 8th century, Seibert said, at which time Christian scholars started blatant lies about the Islamic faith, such as its followers worshipped the prophet Mohammed as a god. This was due mostly to the threat that Islam posed to the Christian faith, as it expanded at that time all over the north African and Eurasian continent.
Seibert said the Islamic Club and the academic departments felt the need to host this talk because they “are appalled by the ignorance in our culture” concerning not only Islam, but most religious faiths. He cited a poll from the Pugh Foundation that shows Americans are “ignorant and illiterate” about the origins and beliefs of other religions as well as their own. The bottom line, he said, is that “Islam is misrepresented in our public discourse.”
Tahir addressed the issue of the distinction between what the Qu’ran (the Islamic holy book) actually says and what people think it says. For instance, there is nothing in the Qu’ran that says Muslim women must wear a hijab, or head scarf. It is a personal choice meant to enforce the idea of being modest, Tahir said, but the actual rules for doing so vary from household to household more than they do from country to country. “The root is social,” she said.
Tahir also pointed out many instances in which people have misinterpreted sayings from the Qu’ran. For instance, the passage that condones the killing of Jews is often read outside of its historical context, in which the Muslims were being oppressed by the Jews of Israel. The violence was to stop, though, once the oppression ended, a phrase which people often deliberately leave out. The discussion emphasized that Islam is actually a religion about peace, and the Qu’ran says that children, women and the elderly are never to be harmed. “Only hurt who is hurting you,” Andersen paraphrased.
Attendees were able to submit questions anonymously for discussion; these questions ranged from how accepting Islam is of converts (“Very,” the panel said) to where the belief that Islamic martyrs are given 42 virgins in heaven comes from (a myth meant to glorify war veterans, the panel said). These questions generated much of the discussion on Islam and covered many topics, from the importance of fasting during Ramadan to the portrayal of Muslims in the media.
“We all are where we came from, and we all have misconceptions,” Andersen said. “We can’t get rid of them, but we can do our best to minimize them.”