Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2011
By Kevin Doby, Heritage Media
Around 200 people packed the Chelsea District Library on Monday night for a forum on Islamic awareness.
“People are naturally afraid of what they do not know,” Dawud Walid, director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Walid was a panelist for the forum, along with Najah Bazzy, director and founder of Zaman International and Imam Al-Qazwini from the Islamic Center of America.
The meeting room for the forum, which held around 100 people, overflowed out into the hallway of the main entrance to the library.
Joanne Ladio, an organizer for the forum, said the event was created to learn more about Islam and dispel myths.
“We want people to have opinions coming from a place of knowledge,” she said. “We are not here tonight promoting, we are here to educate.”
With the forum taking place on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, newly sworn-in state Rep. Mark Ouimet gave opening remarks.
Ouimet used his time to relate lessons from Dr. King’s leadership book to everyday life. While Dr. King’s message of toleration and equality certainly carried over into the panel discussion, the focus of the night after Ouimet’s time was focused squarely on the Islamic faith and Muslim society.
With time constraints, each panelist was given about 10 minutes to discuss a part of Muslim tradition and faith.
“I felt like the speakers should have had more time,” Jan Sevde said after the forum.
Audience member Patrick Zieska agreed.
“I think they just scratched the surface, it was hard to address everything they needed to say in around 15 minutes,” he said.
Walid spoke first and had a broad discussion about Islamic faith to dispel misconceptions.
“I want to address the fact that Islamic values are not altogether different from Christian or Jewish values,” Walid said. “Our God is no different from the God in the New or Old Testament.”
Bazzy discussed the role of women in Islam.
“I know people want to know what’s on my head,” she said. “But I hope America comes to a point where what is in our heads is more important than what’s on it.”
Nazzy made it a point that Muslim women are just as any other women: “We cry, we nag, we say confusing things to men that we hope men understand.”
The final speaker was Al-Qazwini, the leader of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, the largest Mosque in North America.
“We are proud to be Muslims, but we are also proud to be Americans,” Qazwini said. “Muslims cannot find a better home than the U.S. There is more freedom, even religious freedom for us, than any Muslim country.”
The panelist all maintained that there is a difference between culture and religion. When questioned about things such as the treatment of women in Muslim countries or Hezbollah’s stance on Israel, the panelist tried to maintain that what occurs in these countries is not necessarily what is found in the Islamic faith, but is more of a cultural action.
“We tend to demonize that which we don’t understand,” Rev Tom Macauly, a volunteer at the forum said, “It’s important for smaller communities to know that we are also part of a larger community.”
Some in the audience, however, disagreed with sentiment that culture was responsible for violence in the Middle East.
“I think just like there are radical Christians and radical Jews there are also radical Muslims,” Warren Mcarthur said after the panel, “but I think it was too easy of a copout to separate religion from what is going on in Muslim countries.”
Opinions on what the panelists said varied, but many left the panel with a new sense of what Islam is about.
“I thought it was fascinating,” Jan Sevde said, “I didn’t know too much about Muslims and their beliefs coming in, but I think it’s just an opening to discussion.”