A professor at Georgetown University and practicing Muslim aimed to dispel misconceptions regarding Islam in his lecture "Why Shouldn't I think there is a problem with Islam?" on Monday night. Around 300 students, professors and community members made their way into the Hemmingson Ballroom for the event.
Dr. Jonathan Brown, Islam expert, author and former University of Washington professor, was the first speaker of the year for the "Being Religious Interreligiously" lecture series.
"It's wonderful to see a full room for a topic like this," religious studies professor John Sheveland said.
He said he began to plan Brown's visit last summer, but didn't foresee how timely the lecture would be in relation to the immigration ban proposed by the Trump administration.
Brown's title slide for his presentation featured an inkblot from a Rorschach test.
He said it is symbolic because "any impression we have will necessarily reflect more of our own view than the actual nature of that object."
One of Brown's main points throughout the night was that the people who practice a religion have the choice of how to practice it.
He noted that the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide make up a quarter of the world's population; a demographic that is nearly impossible to generalize, with people from Iran to Beirut.
"Human beings can't process that diversity," he said. "They have to come up with stereotypes."
Brown said to look at Shariah, the idea of God's law in Islam, in the same way that Americans look at the constitution. Meaning, there is one constitution but each state has many different laws. In the same way, Shariah is different in each Muslim country.
Next, Brown moved onto the topic of Islam and violence.
Brown used relayed statistics from CNN's Peter Bergen that showed between .006 and .007 percent of Muslims have been convicted or arrested for terrorist-related crimes.
His next slide, titled "yeah but all terrorists are Muslims?" showed that from 1980 to 2006, only 6 percent of terrorist crimes were carried out by Muslims, but caucasians tend not to be portrayed as terrorists in the news.
"Mass shootings are an American problem," Brown said. "It doesn't matter who's carrying them out."
To the misconception that the Quran is more violent in nature than other religious texts, Brown showed that the Old Testament of the Bible has twice as many references to violence as the Quran.
"I have to be honest, this surprised me," he said, adding that he doesn't like to compare the texts in this way.
Brown finished off his lecture asking again what people think represents Islam.
He pulled up pictures of NFL player Ryan Harris, U.S. Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad and Women's March organizer Linda Sarsour – all Muslims.
He told the story of his Muslim cab driver in Iran who told him to live with his family – rent free – for two months rather than find an apartment.
These people are more representative of Islam than any of the villains, he said.
During the question-and-answer period, a Muslim community member "born and raised in Jordan" said, "As a Muslim and as a human being, it is so painful to see what ISIS is doing under the name of my own faith."
Brown said he was grateful she brought up ISIS.
"There is not a lot of stuff that all Muslims agree on," Brown said, but authorities across Islamic nations agree that ISIS is not representative of Islam.
Another Spokane community member, accused Brown of omitting information and lying.
He was asked to find his seat by GU Campus Security officers after a long argument.
Nick Gervasini, a GU College Republican member, asked Brown to clarify if he would equate psychopathy to jihadism in the case of mass shootings.
"I'm not equating psychopathy and terrorism because terrorism is a tactic and psychopathy is a cause," Brown answered.
To end the night, a community member brought up the events of 9/11 to show that even a small number of people can inflict a lot of harm.
Brown countered by pointing out recent attacks on a mosque in Quebec and Texas.
Brown said it doesn't take a lot of people to inflict damage, but what's worse is when they're in a position of authority.