WhyIslam West, Olympia Chapter helped organize an event with Amnesty International (Olympia Chapter) and the OPME- Olympians for Peace in the Middle East in Downtown Olympia. The event had good publicity through an article in the Olympian newspaper by Ms. Venice Buhain as well as fliers to various churches and synagogues.
180-200 people attended the thought-provoking discussions. Ms. Karen Lewis, a local resident, thought that “the event was wonderful and very interesting.” Mr. Ron Eggleton, a film-maker who recorded the entire program for TCTV, commented, “I was thrilled with the turnout and the presentations. I learned quite a bit, and it was great to hear from local Muslims! I wish we had this much earlier!”
The program began ahead of schedule by a 5 minute clip entitled “Planet of the Arabs” which showed the vilification and demonizing of Muslims and Arabs in the movies and TV serials, usually as villains, terrorists, or stupid fall-guys. It waved the very stereo-types in front of everybody that the seminar was hoping to negate. It was an appropriate segue-way and made the case for dispelling the misunderstandings and building bridges.
Dr. Therese Saliba, Faculty from The Evergreen State College and Middle- Eastern Studies professor, was the MC for the event and provided some background information and demographics. The alarming increase in hate-crimes against Muslims, mosques and Arabs demonstrated that the negative portrayal in the daily newspapers or news channels had succeeded to a certain extent in dehumanizing these people. Most of them are US citizens and registered to vote. They contribute to society and are successful physicians, lawyers, teachers, government employees, and academics.
Captain James Yusuf Yee, who was a Chaplain for the US Military, and author of the book For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism under Fire, spoke first about the basic teachings of Islam, the articles of faith and the 5 pillars of Islam. He discussed the various similarities between the 3 faiths- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He also exploded some myths like “all Arabs are Muslims and all Muslims are Arabs.”
The largest Muslim country in the world is Indonesia (which is in the Far East) and Arabs make up only 15 % of the total world Muslim population which is about 1.3 billion. Sometimes, troublemakers and extremists take holy verses out of context and twist their meanings. He quoted some passages which most folks in the audience thought were from the Holy Quran, but which turned out to be from the Holy Bible.
He made the case for individual study and clarification before believing the information from the biased media, full of prejudice.
Imam Mohammad Joban, from the local Islamic Center of Olympia and a Washington, Department of Corrections Chaplain, spoke about “Jihad, Terrorism and Islam”, defining the terms, dispelling some misunderstandings and exploding the myths. He condemned extremist Muslims who kill innocent men, women and children, whatever their grievances might be. All the major organizations like ISNA, ICNA, CAIR, MPAC etc. do condemn any and all acts of violence and terror; however, there is no media coverage given to them which results in a perception that American Muslims are not vocal enough in their condemnation of terrorism.
Imam Joban also discussed that the hostilities between the Jews and Muslims is quite new (50 years or less). They have lived side-by-side in several countries and built their synagogues and mosques near each another. He gave the example of 800 years of the “Golden Age of Judaism” which was in Andalusia (present day Spain) under the Muslim Caliphate. The foreign minister and the Finance minister of the Islamic State at that time were of Jewish faith.
Joban further clarified that Muslim rule in Spain came to an end in 1492 when Granada was conquered by the armies of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. In the same year, 1492, the Jews who refused to convert were exiled from Spain by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
The Jews were accepted by the Ottoman Empire, a haven of Islamic justice and tolerance. Sultan Beyazid II was a devout Muslim. He welcomed the Jews who were fleeing from Spanish persecution, and afforded them the freedom to practice their religion in Muslim lands. In addition, the conquest of Istanbul by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror meant freedom for Jews and heterodox Christians who had been subjected to oppression for centuries by Roman and Byzantine rulers.
His was a message of tolerance, love, and affection. Drawing upon several quotes from the Holy Quran, he involved the audience and encouraged participation in a novelle approach by requesting them to read in the mike. All those passages revealed that organizing acts of terror against innocent people is utterly against Islam and it is unlikely that any Muslim could ever commit such crimes.
On the contrary, Muslims are responsible for stopping these people, removing "mischief on earth" and bringing peace and security to all the people all over the world. The barbarism known as terrorism, that is so preoccupying the world at present, is the work of ignorant and fanatical people, completely estranged from Qur'anic morality, and who have absolutely nothing to do with religion. “The solution to these people and groups who try to carry out their savagery under the mask of religion is the teaching of true Qur'anic morality. In other words, Islam and Qur'anic morality are solutions to the scourge / curse of terrorism, not supporters of it.”
Ms. Amy Annette Winslow, a resident of Thurston, for the last 8 months and a fairly recent transplant from Texas, says, “This is my home now and forever. I love it here. I shall not move from here!”
She spoke about what Islam has to offer Americans like herself, in terms of equality, justice, women’s liberation, direct relationship to God without any intermediaries as well as it’s spiritual aspects of peace and tranquility. Seeking to eradicate the fear of the unknown that causes divisions, she illustrated the real life of a Muslim woman in America, giving her very own personal story and the details of her conversion. Furthermore, the status of women in Islam is one of the most extremely misunderstood and incorrectly portrayed things in western society. Calling upon people to separate religion and culture, she gave the example of Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to drive a car. However, there is no prohibition on driving in the Holy Qur’an.
Imad Ahmed, a Muslim teenager in high school, spoke about the problems that kids face in school. He gets asked about alcohol, drugs, Muslim holidays, and perspective on dating, Prom nights and such inter-cultural topics. After 9/11, he and his Muslim friends find themselves trying to defend Islam from disparaging remarks, negative connotations and they try their level best to show the difference between the religion as a whole and the extremist fringe elements who are the “black sheep, giving it a bad rap.”When Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma Federal Building, nobody said that a Christian Fundamentalist Terrorist had done that. When Dr. Baruch Goldstein massacred the people at a Friday prayer with a machine-gun, nobody called it an act of terrorism by a Jewish Terrorist. When the KKK bombs the abortion clinics to kill the doctors and nurses, it is denounced for the criminal act that it is without mention of their religion. What he was requesting is similar fairness and justice in reporting.
After a quick break for the Sunset prayers, the panel continued by taking some questions which the most interesting part of the evening was. Many questions were asked about environmental issues, status of women in Islam, stereo-types, acceptance of Gay converts into Islam, political issues and spiritual meanings. There was some great discussion, which could have carried on longer. The meeting adjourned with a vote of thanks and an invitation for “OPEN HOUSE” during the month Ramadan @ the Islamic Center of Olympia, 4324, 20th Lane NE, Lacey, WA – 98516. People were invited from September, 25th through October, 25th every evening to sample dishes from 39 nationalities and ethnicities, just after Sunset. (FREE)
Socialization, networking and inter-mixing was the best part as people sought to make friends and develop bridges between themselves as individuals as well as local organizations and churches. Addresses and e-mails were being exchanged as Olympian Muslims hugged their community members. Promises were made to support each another in common arenas. Over 100 Quran copies were distributed along with several pamphlets, educational literature and booklets. The goal of the www.whyislam.org outreach table (entirely handled by ladies from the local mosque) was not proselytization, but rather to promote understanding and to educate. A toll-free phone number 1-877-WHY-ISLAM was provided for folks to call in to speak to a Muslim to ask questions, request a FREE Quran, pamphlets, books and prayer rugs. People left with a feeling of elation, happiness, peace and harmony and complimented the organizers and sponsors.
Mr. Jim Goche, a local Olympian in the audience, said, “ I appreciate the energy with which the local Moslem community is reaching out to others here in the area and it was impressive – the attendance which your meeting drew. Of the many things which were discussed, the invitation to a Ramadan evening meal caught my attention immediately. Sounds like there is a healthy diversity in your menus with a good selection of wonderful things to eat. This seems like something which happily transcends cultural and religious divisions. Our family will take you up on the invitation to break bread together later on this fall.” Ms. Kathy Friedt, Director of the Washington Human Rights Commission, commented : “The event was extremely successful by all standards. Educational, enlightening. Had humor and warmth. Admittedly, this provided the basics.”
Article contributed Dr. Muhammad Ayub, Coordinator WhyIslam-West, NW Chapter