Spring 2003


Understanding of Islam grows but student says media coverage is flawed

Mohammed Amiri '02 worships at the Islamic Center of Tacoma

On Sept. 10, 2001, one day before the terrorist attacks on New York City, PLU religion professor Paul Ingram delivered the first of three lectures in an adult education class devoted to the study of the Islam religion. Fifty people were in attendance at the presentation held at Messiah Lutheran Church in Auburn, Wash.

One week later, at the second installment of the lecture series, the sanctuary was filled with 400 people.

Ingram’s experience serves as a vivid illustration of the growing interest in Islam propelled by the events of 9/11. Within a week of the terrorist attacks, he and other PLU faculty had organized discussions and teach-ins to answer students’ questions.

Ingram, an expert in Islam, observed that the vast majority of people who attended the lecture wanted to make more sense of the pluralistic culture in which they live.

He also thought most were optimistic about current and future relations between Christians and Muslims, despite what he said was distorted coverage of Muslims by the media. Furthermore, they asked good questions about what could be done and what has been done to account for the current state of foreign relations.

"Islamic extremism is not a Muslim thing to do at all," he said. "The Quran doesn’t condone terrorism."

He compared the acts of terrorism with the conflicts between the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland and said, "Muslims are not the only ones who use religion to justify violence."

He also said that any religious faction has the potential to become extreme and lead to violence.

Mohammed Amiri ’02, a Muslim who grew up in the United Arab Emirates, is frustrated by the misconceptions about Islam that have festered in the wake of 9/11. But he said he can understand where people are coming from if they only know the information presented by the media — information, he said, that is mostly negative.

Amiri said the media have focused on the oppression of Muslim women, but that many Muslim women, like his sister, a doctor, are educated professionals.

The segregation of women and men at most Islamic mosques, he said, is so people will stay focused on prayer and worship and not on each other. The traditional clothing women wear to cover their bodies, with the exception of their hands and face, is designed to give them more respect.

Amiri noted that this, too, was the case historically in other cultures. But over time other cultures have changed, while Islam has remained the same.

Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world. Ingram said the most prominent reason for this trend is that Islam appeals to people experiencing injustice.

In some ways, Islam is the first "liberation theology" because of its rejection of racism, slavery and economic and gender oppression. Ingram said such social justice issues and the desire to defend and be an advocate for the persecuted are what provoke some to convert to Islam and practice the faith.

For Amiri, Islam is far more than a religion. Born to Muslim parents, Amiri said Islam defines his culture, traditions and beliefs.

The benefits of following Islam are many, he said, and what he finds to be especially helpful is how his religion answers all of his questions, provides structure in his life and establishes guidelines for how to live. "It teaches you how to deal with people in life and in business, and how to treat your family," Amiri said.

Amiri considers one of the main differences between Islam and Christianity to be the regard of Jesus Christ. He explained that Islam respects a number of prophets, one of whom is Jesus. Muslims do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, or that he was crucified.

What Muslims do believe is outlined in the Five Pillars, the set of beliefs that defines Muslim thought and culture.

The first is the declaration of faith stating that there is one God (Allah) and that Muhammad is his prophet.

The second pillar calls for Muslims to offer prayers at five compulsory daily prayer times and Sawm, the fasting from dawn to dusk every day during the month of Ramadan, is the third pillar. Muslims are also expected to contribute to charity in a ritual called Zakat, as the fourth Pillar.

Finally, all who can afford to make the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) during their lifetime are to do so. Mecca was the birthplace of Muhammad, the last of God’s prophets, in 610 A.D. and is in present-day Saudi Arabia.

On Fridays, Amiri joins other local Muslims in congregational prayer at the Islamic Center of Tacoma mosque at noon. He has also gone to Mecca during Ramadan, where he was one of roughly two million other believers present.

It was a powerful experience to be united with Muslims and offer prayers and worship, he said. He recalled the masses of people circling the Kaaba, the structure of worship God commanded Abraham and Ishmael to build.

While Amiri is grounded in his faith he understands that each individual must look for something to answer his or her questions.

By taking studies in history of religions, taught by Ingram, Amiri said he has been exposed to various doctrines. Amiri planned to move back to the United Arab Emirates after his December graduation. He wants to work in a business-related occupation.

There is no existing student Muslim group at PLU. Amiri attributes this to the relatively small number of practicing Muslims.

In spite of this, Amiri said in the five years he has lived in the United States, he has not had difficulty practicing his faith. He said, "If you believe in something, you can practice it anywhere."

By Karyn Ostrom ‘04

Reprinted from The Mooring Mast

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