Tuesday, May 01, 2007
I've been quite remiss in writing lately, but I can't pass up the opportunity to share the best MEEF to date last Thursday. (For those of you not well-versed on the acronym yet, it stands for the "Middle East Engagement Forum", one of The Euphrates Institute's initiatives in Washington, DC).
We invited reps from the Muslim Public Affairs Council (http://www.mpac.org) to come address our group and engage in a very frank discussion on Islam. The speakers, Safiya Ghori (Director of Government Affairs) and Dr. Hassan al-Ibrahim (Board of Directors), were comprehensive and compelling, and fully responded to every question the group asked.
The questions ranged from the basics to specifics, and included the following:
1.) The Quran was written a long time ago. How do you know the meaning of the words has not changed in modern-day Arabic?
2.) Are non-Muslims allowed to touch the Quran? Is the text regarded as the literal word of God? What do you do about contradictions within the text?
3.) What is the meaning of jihad?
4.) Why is there no groundswelling of condemnation in the Muslim world against acts of terrorism, yet there are mass protests about a Danish cartoon or an Apple store called "Mecca"?
5.) What is the difference between Wahhabists and Salafists? Sunni and Shia?
6.) What do you think of the terms used in the media, such as "Islamo-fascist, radical Islamist, jihadists"? What if the groups refer to themselves in those terms?
7.) How do misperceptions affect Muslims living in the US?
My attempt to recall the answers in their entirety will leave a lot to be desired, but here goes...
1.) Classical Arabic has remained the same and has been safeguarded through the generations through the focus on memorization and repetition of the Quran. So, the meaning of words has not changed.
2.) The Quran is the literal word of God. Contradictions arise from reading phrases out of context.
3.) Jihad means "struggle" or "exertion of effort". Dr. Hassan al-Ibrahim likened the term jihad to Westerners to "crusade" for Muslims. There are different meanings and contexts for the word just like jihad, yet to Westerners and Muslims, the words generally mean fighting all the infidels/heretics.
4.) MPAC described the tireless efforts of their and similar Muslim groups to denounce terrorism, yet they are rarely discussed or picked up in the media.
5.) Salafists are essentially fundamentalists, and Wahhabists are a certain strain of Salafists, named after Muhammad ibn 'abd al Wahhab. Wahhabism is the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and is the form subscribed to by Osama bin Laden.
6.) These terms feed the overall picture of Islam as a violent religion, with violent adherents. These groups are largely political, fighting to realize political aims, yet are using religion as propaganda and to enhance their appeal. We should not give in to their desire to paint policies and ideas in a light that pits religions against each other. Rather than these terms, we could say "terrorists, radicals, insurgents, etc."
7.) MPAC commented on the widespread misperceptions of Americans about the Muslim religion and Muslims in general. One of the speakers said that her children are constantly jeered at and labelled "terrorist", although they were raised in the US.
Our next activity will be visiting a mosque in the area...will hope to get even more insights and learn more. Check the website for info!