Is Islam a religion of peace or a religion of war? What does Jihad actually mean and what do Islamic movements such as ISIS, AL Qaeda...etc. stand for? Do all Islamic extremists carry out violent acts? What has caused the rise of Islamic extremism in the world? These and other interesting questions were answered at the open forum titled "Radical vs. Real: Islam in the Modern World," held at Mount Wachusett Community College on October 19.
Mount Wachusett Community College President, Daniel Asquino, along with the president of Heywood Healthcare, Win Brown, Heywood Physician Dr. Tariq Malik and community leaders presented a discussion forum to promote a better understanding of the differences between Islam, the world's second largest religion, and the vicious turmoil and savagery played out nightly in the news media.
As ignorance and hatred continues to spread across the globe, some leaders in the Muslim world feel as if there is hope for peace. The cafeteria at Mount Wachusett Community College was the venue for the first step in finding answers to political unrest in a world at odds with the Middle East violence. Bursting at the seams with a lively group of faculty, community leaders and students, the South Café of the Gardner campus was alive with, at times, animated discussion on the topic. This could be the real beginning of a much needed healing process. The speakers all advocated expansion of democracy in the Arab-Muslim world, with much more involvement from the United States as they adamantly disagree with President Obama's hands off policy.
The presenters, members of the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester were well-versed and extremely knowledgeable about their topics of discussion. Speakers were all U.S. citizens and of the Muslim faith. Dr Saleem Khanani, born and raised in Pakistan, is a hematologist and oncologist with the Heywood Health Organization, in addition to being affiliated with Saint Vincent's Hospital in Worcester. The second presenter, Dr Amjad Bahnassi, born and raised in Syria, is the director of Behavioral Health Services in Worcester and assistant professor of Psychiatry at UMass Medical School. Norman Khanani, an Islamic Studies educator, graduated from Hartford Seminary's masters in Islamic Studies Program, concentrating in Muslim-Christian relations.
In a cross section of students surveyed, some thought it was a good idea to have a forum discussion on the differences between real Islam and radical Islam. Others were not as enthusiastic but all can agree on one fact; if there had been misunderstandings and misconceptions about the Muslim faith before last night, those have been cleared up and a new perception is changing reality today on our campus.
During the main presentations, topics discussed ranged from Muslim's core belief in oneness with God and the removal of corruption from the earth. In addition these Islamic scholars touched on the five pillars of the religion. The believer's duties are summed up in five simple rules. They are Shahadah or the creed, Salah or prayer, Sawm or fasting, Hajj or pilgrimage, and Zakat, almsgiving. Discussion focused on studies of the history of the Muslim faith and the Quran.
Questions came from the floor about the difference between the words Muslim and Islam. It was noted that the difference is similar to the difference between Christians and Christianity. It was a lively debate that that ran over and had to be halted several times to move on to new questions.
In contrast to many other religions, the basic practice of Islam is simplicity itself. The believer worships God directly without the need of a priests or clergy. The Quran teaches equality, freedom and tolerance. Sometimes local culture requires different interpretation of the Muslim faith. We witness this cultural difference in countries that for example, restrict women's rights.
Ignorance promotes distrust and violence, resulting in divisions, stereotypes, misconceptions and half-truths. The resulting strife becomes overwhelmingly expensive both in terms of the economic cost and loss of human life.