Salaam aleikum, one of the most recognized greetings in the entire world, translated as “peace to you,” rung through the hallowed halls of Sheslow Auditorium last Thursday night.
Assistant Professor Mahmoud Hamad moderated an informative forum on the topic of “What it means to be an American Muslim” to a seemingly diverse crowd. That crowd included many older Christians and younger Muslims, skimming on the younger Christian crowd.
Hamad hoped to “provide the campus community and the Des Moines community with an interesting and stimulating discussion about American Muslims and the opportunities and challenges they face in this great nation.”
The forum utilized some prominent members of the Islamic faith including Dr. M. Zudhi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy; Luai Amro, the president of the Islamic Cultural Center of Des Moines and Bill Aossey, the president of Midamar Corporation and Dr. Saima Zafar, a cardiovascular physician in the Des Moines area.
The actual forum touched on various topics such as the attempt to defend Islam from stereotypes and media portrayal and separating practicing Islam from political Islam.
Many of those in the audience were able to see a different side and more homegrown view of how American Muslims are very much appalled by those representing their religion in such a violent way.
Luai Amro defined the night when he said, “The feeling in the Muslim community is that we always have to defend our faith.”
Taboo questions and heated arguments stayed somewhat dormant with a few exceptions. One of the more antagonizing questions was about Jasser’s credentials to be an expert on being an American Muslim. This was put to rest as he stated that his faith is his reason for his belief, and the way he practices it is his authority.
Sophomore Bryan Hays attended the program and felt that while it was a very positive discussion, there is still more to sort out.
“I think it shows there is not a lot of agreement in the Muslim world on what is the best course of action or face to portray to the rest of America,” he said.
One of the major points Jasser continued to hit on was the battle between political and religious Islam. He said there is a very fine line between both ideas.
“My view of Islam is more about family, moral courage, moral clarity, honesty, integrity,” he said. “It’s not about a political system based on Sharia law that employs these techniques.”
Although terrorism was an underlying theme of the discussion, the entire panel felt that was not the reason why they were there. They were there to talk about how they must escape that stereotype and inform the United States public that they do not endorse such behavior within their faith.
“Very few (American Muslims) have stood up and said we want institutions to fight this (behavior),” Jasser said. “To find out how our faith has been corrupted by these radicals… and to say that Islam is one entity is just absurd.”
Amro and Jasser embraced the tangents that occurred on the ideas of political and practicing Islam, whereas Aossey and Zafar tried to stick to the original plans of the forum.
Overall, to Hamad, those involved in the panel and the audience, it seemed to be a successful endeavor.
“I think everyone should try to learn firsthand about the major issues that he or she does not know much about,” he said. “The media does not do a very good job explaining Islam, among other things, and committed citizens should learn and formulate their own opinion.”
Photo: Tad Unruh