‘Differences without Divisions: Islam in America’ forum set Jan. 17 at the library
Published: Sunday, January 02, 2011
By Sheila Pursglove, Special Writer
Despite being a majority religion in about 50 countries, the Islamic faith remains a mystery to many Americans.
A group of local residents hopes to change that by hosting a forum, “Differences Without Divisions: Islam in America,” set for 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Chelsea District Library, 221 S. Main St,. in Chelsea. The event helps to celebrate Martin Luther King Day.
“I think, on the whole, there’s a lot of interest in the community in learning more about what it means to be Muslim in this area, and also an interest in a more balanced perspective on Islam and its practitioners,” said organizer Micky Howe of Chelsea.
“We’re hopeful that by having this forum, it will increase understanding and tolerance for people who believe and live differently than ourselves. I strongly believe that seeds of peace can be planted in our small towns and hopefully lead to a transformation in attitudes on a larger scale.”
Last year, Howe’s daughter made a number of Muslim friends at the University of Michigan and in her all-women student dorm. Howe and her husband, Ray, hosted about a dozen of these women for a “hallal” Thanksgiving dinner, and later the Howes enjoyed the hospitality of a Muslim family in Dearborn.
“I realized these young people are hopeful and excited about their future, in their professions, creating their families and experiencing the opportunities offered in our country, and they consider themselves 100 percent American. The idea of this forum came out of that experience,” Howe said.
She gathered a group of residents for an organizational meeting last August. The group numbers 15 and includes members of Chelsea’s One World, One Family Task Force.
Three nationally known Islamic leaders will discuss contemporary issues for Muslims living in America; a place for Muslims in the world today; American media representations of Islam and its practitioners; Islam and youth; the role of women in Islam; Islam and humanitarian service; and the future of Islam and its role in America and the world.
Imam Sayid Hassan Al-Qazwini is a scholar and religious leader at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, and a past consultant to The White House, U.S. State Department and Defense Department on Muslim affairs.
Najah Bazzy is a nurse specializing in trans-cultural health care and is the founding chair and president of Zaman International, providing food, food assistance and holiday food boxes to those in need.
Dawud Walid is executive director of the Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a chapter of America’s largest advocacy and civil liberties organization for Muslims.
Walid, who served in the U.S. Navy and earned two U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medals, serves as assistant Imam at Masjid Wali Muhammad in Detroit, and as board trustee for the Metropolitan Detroit Interfaith Workers’ Rights Committee.
He has spoken at many institutions of higher learning about Islam and interfaith dialogue, presented on prominent panel discussions and, in 2008, delivered the closing benediction at the 52nd Michigan Electoral College in the Michigan State Senate chambers.
Walid, who has made the Islamic pilgrimage Hajj to Mecca twice and traveled to many nations, including Egypt, Israel, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, has been interviewed, quoted, and published in such media outlets as Al-Jazeera, CNN, BBC World Service Radio, FOX, National Public Radio, the New York Times, Saudi TV 2, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.
The forum, endorsed by the Chelsea Rotary Club and the Adult Learner’s Institute, will be moderated by journalist David Crumm, who spent more than 20 years as the Detroit Free Press religion writer before leaving in 2007 to become editor of ReadTheSpirit.com, and ReadTheSpirit Books.
“Millions of Americans still have never had a personal conversation with one of our Muslim neighbors here in the United States,” Crumm said. “This Chelsea event is a great opportunity to talk face to face and ask questions.
“Most Americans don’t know anything about Islam except maybe that Muslims read the Quran, they bow to the ground when they pray and some terrorists have twisted the faith of Islam like a pretzel to justify their warped personal agendas. This public forum is a quick way to learn a lot about Islam in a helpful setting. We plan to share some really interesting facts and people can come to raise those questions that seem puzzling right now.
“The whole panel is made up of people who are respected across the U.S. for their wisdom and their community service.”
Crumm said some people may be nervous about coming to an event that focuses on a completely different culture, and that many Americans feel real frustration and fear about cultures that seem so different from their own traditional American ways.
“But this forum in Chelsea won’t be an experience that should make anyone nervous. It won’t be a shouting match. We’re all coming in a good spirit, donating our time for a good cause,” he said.
As a moderator, Crumm has welcomed men and women from across Michigan to public events over many years.
“We always have a wonderful time and learn a lot,” he said. “If people are curious about this event, I’d say, ‘Come along and you’ll probably enjoy the experience.'”
State Rep. Mark Ouimet, R-52nd District, will deliver the opening remarks for the forum.
“I’ll talk about the impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how, through diversity, we have built strength,” Ouimet said.
“This forum is a very positive opportunity for people to see and listen to the differences, and also the commonalities of what we are as Americans.”
The presentations will be followed by questions and discussion with the speakers.
The library will also host a Young People’s Forum from 1 to 3 p.m., with a film about being Muslim and a discussion over snacks, facilitated by students from U of M Muslim Student Association and local adults. Young adults and parents are welcome.