(Written by Sara Arthurs, Staff Writer for The Courier. Story originally published Oct. 31, 2016.)
There is great diversity among Muslims, attendees learned at a panel discussion at the University of Findlay on Thursday night.
Panelists included Ahmad Hussein Al-eteiwi, a UF graduate student from Jordan; Nada Bahammam, a UF undergraduate student from Saudi Arabia; Elizabeth Buchanan, Ph.D., associate professor of history; song-Chong Lee, Ph.D., associate professor of religion; and Imam Talal Eid, Th.D., director of religious affairs for the Islamic Center of Greater toledo. The panel was intended to address misunderstandings and confusion about the Islamic faith, which continues to be a focus during this election season.
Assistant professor of philosophy Shawn Graves, Ph.D., one of the moderators, said they had received about 400 questions in advanced from students. Audience members were also permitted to ask questions during the event.
One question Graves asked was what differences panelists see between moderate and extremist Islamic views. Eid said the term “moderate” did not even come about until there was ” a group of Muslims who decided to use violence” to accomplish their agenda. “For your information, those are not even Muslims,” he added.
He said those who kill innocent people are violating the teachings of the Quran: “We do not believe in violence to accomplish our goals.”
During the discussion of “moderate” versus “extremist,” a young woman in the audience wearing a headscarf asked to comment. She said if the extremists were actually Muslims, they would not be bombing mosques while people are praying.
And in response to another question, about what the next president should do to improve relations with the Muslim community, Buchanan said just because some people use the religion to justify terrorism does not mean it is ai terrorist religion. She likened it to “the Troubles,” the conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics. She said neither Protestantism nor Catholicism is inherently a terrorist religion – it was just that people were committing criminal terrorist acts and using their religion to justify it.
“Steer away from language that demonizes Islam,” she said.
Graves posed another question: What is the Islamic view of women and why do they cover their heads? Buhammam explained this is ia sign of “modesty” and she wears a headscarf “because I want to.”
“I’m not oppressed… I believe in my faith,” she said. “I’m Muslim.”
Eid said people may believe it is ia “sign of oppression,” but he challenged attendees to ask young women who wear it “whether someone is oppressing them” or if it is something they believe in. ”
“They are students like you,” he said.
Lee said there are also many Muslim women who do not wear hijabs. On many college campuses in Turkey, for example, women are required to remove them. So, there is a lot of diversity within Islam, he said.
Buchanan siad it’s important to distinguish the religion from the culture. Her husband had been stationed in Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive. However, this is not true of Muslim women everywhere, but is part of this specific culture, she said.
Bahammam, who grew up in Saudi Arabia, said she never felt that “I can’t go out or I can’t have fun.”
The other moderator, Erin Laverick, Ph.D., associate professor of English as an Internation Language and Intensive English Language Program director, posed a question of how similar Islam is to Christianity and “What do Muslims think of Jesus?”
Al-eteiwi replied that there are many similarities but that Muslims see Jesus as a prophet of God, whereas Christians see him as the son of God. Eid said the belief is that no human has “a divine nature.” And lee noted there is actually an entire chapter of the Quran devoted to Mary.
Eid said Muslims are encouraged to invite Christian and Jewish friends into their homes to socialize and to accept invitations, to be friendly and interact. However, Muslims do not consume pork or alcohol at dinner, he said.
A question from the audience focused on Ramadan, the month during which Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. A man in the audience asked if there was a limitation and if, for example, pregnant women are required to fast.
Eid replied that people should not fast if it would harm their health, giving as another example patients who must take medications. He siad those who temporarily cannot fast can make it up later, when they are able. If someone is permanently unable to fast – say, because of a chronic illness – they calculate a figure based on the number of days of Ramadan and donate to feed the needy.
Graves said a question that “was asked repeatedly” is whether Findlay’s Muslim students feel judged in America and, if so, in what way.
Bahammam said both yes and no. But she said when she is being judged it is not because of her.
“People who judge me judge everyone,” she said.
More common, she said, is that people are afraid of offending her. She recalled one time a man who wasn’t meeting her eyes finally asked if it was OK: “Can I look in your eyes?” “Yes,” she told him. “It is OK.”
Graves asked students if they could share one thing about Islam to someone not familiar, what would it be. “Peace,” the young woman in the headscarf who had spoken up said from the audience.
Eid said there are many Muslim students in Findlay and others can learn from them.
“I’m always happy to answer questions if I can,” Bahamman said.
In response to another question, she said people are all different and must learn to accept each other and “make ourselves better – to learn every day.”