“Debunking Myths about the Islamic Faith,” presented by Indivisible Ramona with We Love Our Neighbors Inc., strove to dispel misconceptions about the religion, Islam, and its Muslim followers. Approximately 60 people attended the community event, held Aug. 30 in the Ramona Library Community Room.
Helen Hillix, a mental health professional, said she believes that polarizing beliefs stem from how people are taught differences — true or not — given that they are not born with them.
“We must challenge these myths or misconceptions or we won’t be able to find the peace we’re looking for,” she said.
Three speakers covered the religious beliefs and practices of Islam:
- Aziz Purmul, who has a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in public administration, is the founder of We Love Our Neighbors Project. Saying he is dedicated to improving communication and forming relationships with our neighbors, he outlined the basics of the Islamic faith and practice.
“We love our neighbors,” he said. “I am here to explain that we are diverse. I am not here to convert.”
He described the beliefs and the five pillars of Islam that Muslims practice and punctuated his talk with supporting quotes from the Quran, stressing that Islam is a peaceful religion whose followers believe in God (Allah). Muhammed was a prophet and considered to be a messenger of God, he said.
- Arwa Alkhawaja earned a Master of Arts in leadership studies and Bachelor of Science in chemistry. Her topic was the “Role of Women in Islam.” She has given more than 100 introductory speeches about Islam at universities, community colleges and high schools. In terms of misconceptions she’s heard, she said that it is not Islamic law that Muslim women are oppressed by fathers and husbands, nor are they forced to wear head covering — they choose to wear it to honor God (Allah). Nor are prearranged marriages Islam law, although practices in some cultures do occur, she said. The Quran states that men and women are equal and both have duties and rights.
“No one is better than anyone in value,” she said. “What distinguishes us are our choices and actions — not our gender, not our height. We all matter.”
- Tehseen Lazzouni is the director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of San Diego (ISB), an educational resource organization she founded in 2000 to educate the San Diego community about Islam and Muslims. Tehseen was born and raised in Southern California and holds a master’s degree in business administration from San Diego State University and a bachelor’s degree in management science from the University of California, San Diego.
She spoke on “Islam and Peace” and described the many aspects of personal and national peace. The definition of Islam is peace, and violence is contrary to Islamic values, she said. Fighting is not allowed except in self-defense and against oppression.
She explained the definition of jihad, a term that has come to mean an attack on non-Muslims, but in Arabic means “striving for self-improvement” internally, intellectually and economically to lift the condition from the downtrodden, and physically by fighting against oppression.
- Father Peter Sickles. Following a break highlighted by the contribution of homemade baklava from the speakers, Father Peter Sickles of St. Mary’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church in Ramona reminded the audience that Islam is a religion, not an ethnicity. Christians, Jews and Muslims believe in the same God but through different books. There are references in the Quran to Mary and Jesus and other Christian figures.
“The best way to turn hostility to friendship is to learn and visit,” he said.
Questions from the audience addressed concerns about Islam and some of its followers’ practices. A common theme in response to questions was that culture of specific regions, countries or ethnicities frequently override religious tenets.
- “Islam is a religion, not an ethnicity.” —Father Peter Sickles.
- Violence is contrary to Islamic beliefs. Islam means peace. Peace is fundamental to Islam.
- Harm has been caused in the name of Islam, just as harm has been committed in the name of Christianity and other religions. Deeds committed in conflict with religious teachings are often due to culture rather than religion. Most Muslims live in peace. The speakers encouraged the audience to “not judge all Muslims based on what a few do, any more than we should blame all Christians for what a few do.”
- The definition of jihad is misunderstood. It has come to mean war against non-Muslims. It is an Arabic word that means striving or struggling, especially with a praiseworthy aim.
- Women Muslims wear the hijab (head scarf) as a sign of their dedication to Islam. They are not forced to do so.
- Devout Muslims pray five times a day no matter where they are. It is not an act signifying violence to follow.
- The Quran includes mention of Christian figures such as Jesus and Mary and reflects the times, just as the Bible does.
- Education is an important part of Islam.
- The Golden Rule of Islam: “Not one of you is a believer until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
- Question: Can Islam exist within the U.S. Constitution given that it calls for a theocracy? Response: “As a Muslim I must obey the law of this land. I am proud of being a citizen.”
- Muslims and non-Muslims must take responsibility that there are so many misconceptions in the world.
The challenge “is to do the very best you can to be open to the truth — to be willing to learn — even if you believe you already have the truth.”
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