Thursday, March 01, 2007

Article from St. Croix Avis regarding Walid's Visit to UVI-St. Croix

Lecture at UVI on popular misperceptions about Islam
ST. CROIX—Dawud Walid, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan, gave a lecture on popular misconceptions about Islam at the University of the Virgin Islands’ St. Croix Campus Cafetorium Saturday evening.
The room was mostly full, with over a hundred in attendance. The crowd was very mixed, with people from every segment of St. Croix society; UVI professors and students, local Palestinian and American Moslems, interested Crucians and others. Some folks from the Palestinian community put together a big spread of Middle Eastern foods, homemade hummus, tabouleh, stuffed grape leaves, various sweets and strong coffee flavored with cardamom.
Walid, who was born in Virginia and now resides in Detroit, struck an ecumenical tone, emphasizing the common ground among Islam, Judaism and Christianity, and delving into several areas where he believes Americans have misconceptions about the nature of Islam.
Walid said many Americans believe the faiths are mutually exclusive, that Moslem’s worship a different god. Walid noted that all three faiths have the same origins, the same god, many of the same religious texts and important figures, arguing they are all branches of the same tree.
While there are certainly large differences, Islam, Walid said, even gives Jesus the unique status as messiah, although not the divine status given in Christianity.
The second common confusion Walid attacked was the notion that Moslem equals Arab and vice-versa.
“The largest Moslem nation on the face of the earth is Indonesia. The 2nd largest population of Moslems is in a non-Moslem state: India. Add to that Bangladesh, Pakistan and 40 million Moslems in Western China and non-Arab Moslems vastly outnumber the Arab Moslems,” said Walid.
“Likewise, all Arabs are not Moslems. In Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, there are Arab Christians that have always been there and were never converted. So these are wide misnomers to say Arab and Moslem are synonymous,” said Walid.
“However, all Moslems have been Arabized to some degree. The liturgy is in the Arabic language, the Koran is in Arabic. So Imams must have a good command o f the Arabic language and Arabic etymology,” said Walid.
Next Walid tackled the common Western notion that jihad means holy war.
“In our holy books there is no such term as holy war. Jihad is struggle. We do have a concept called jihad and those who go out in jihad are called mujaheddin. It means exertion or struggle. It has a lesser too. Human beings have a right to defend their life, property and dignity. All human beings have the right to defend themselves. If you are being kicked out of your house, off your land by force--- I don’t mean falling behind on payments and being evicted, but by force of gun,” said Walid, referring indirectly to the Israel Palestine conflict.
“There are clear rules to jihad. No women, children or elderly may be attacked, except when in combat positions. But civilians are not allowed to be hurt,” said Walid.
“And the fighter is supposed to stop immediately if the foe is trying to make peace. You cannot shoot them in the back as they retreat. It is forbidden. Also, you are not allowed to burn crops, cut trees or kill livestock. As a rule of war, if invaders come we cannot say we will kill their cattle to starve them. Scorched earth is impermissible according to the teachings of Mohammed. And suicide bombings are forbidden. The Koran says do not kill yourself. God will bar people from heaven if they take their own life,” said Walid.
These political jihads, Walid says, are called lesser jihad. The greater jihad, he said, is the struggle inside the self against sin and corruption in your own soul.
“Even the prophet Mohammed said the jihad is seeking knowledge and education. He who leaves home in search of knowledge to better cultivate their moral character, while they are out, they are mujaheddin. This is how we Moslems understand jihad; not strapping explosives and blowing yourself up,” said Walid, giving some current examples of Moslem condemnation of aggression.
“Even Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, who has been demonized in the press, has issued a fatwa forbidding nuclear weapons. The top religious scholar in Iran said the nation may not have them as they violate the rules of war,” said Walid.
The fourth topic of confusion Walid examined is the way the West often conflates violence by Moslems with violence in the name of Islam.
“Take the Tamil Tigers; I have never heard them called Buddhist terrorists. I have never heard ETA (the violent Basque separatist group in Spain and France) called socialist or Catholic terrorists. But any person attached to the Islamic faith who commits an act of violence, it is assumed they are doing it in the name of Islam and this is faulty reasoning,” said Walid.
“There is violence done in the name of Islam. We accept that and say it is wrong, it is against Islam and we condemn it,” said Walid, who then reiterated that much of the violence is not done in the name of Islam and that even when some do so, they are at fault, not Islam.
After the formal lecture there was a very extensive question and answer period, covering a wide array of issues worldwide and locally. Some of the questioners had extensive religious and political arguments to make, extending the session considerably.
One questioner asked about the concept of radical and moderate as applied to Islam. Walid objects to both terms as inaccurate and misleading, suggesting that the very religious are also prone to violence.
“Fundamentalists who have beards and don’t watch TV aren’t necessarily violent. Maybe they are like the Amish, rejecting the material world,” said Walid, commenting further that the common belief that Osama bin Laden was a Wahabbi or Salafi radical, in the mold of Saudi Arabia.
“Osama Bin Ladin did not follow the Salafi creed. Salafis don’t want any part of Osama Bin Laden. There are even fatwa’s against him,” said Walid.
On women and the veil, Walid said within the Koran women have equality in their intellectual and spiritual lives. As for the veil, Walid said the practice, known as Hijab, means modesty in dress, and applies to men as well as women.
“My suit here is my Hijab. It is not form fitting, and it covers most of me,” said Walid.
Walid said that the Koran tells women to cover their hair. Covering the face as well is not required and is only done as a personal choice by a small minority of very pious individuals.
“Covering the face is rare, except in Saudi Arabia where it is sanctioned by the state,” said Walid.
Regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, Walid said he agreed with “the vast majority” of what former President Jimmy Carter wrote in his new book: “Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid.”
“When a Palestinian cannot ride in the same car as an Israeli; cannot buy property in certain areas; spend many long hours at check points, they have been ghettoized. It is very similar to apartheid in South Africa. Israel was a strong supporter of apartheid in South Africa,” said Walid.
“I wish our government, when they are for enforcing certain UN resolutions, they would make Israel abide by several resolutions they have been breaking year after year,” said Walid.
Walid argued that conflict was not Moslem versus Jew, noting that the old Palestinian Liberation Front had both Christians and Moslems in it and that the Al Aqua Martyr’s Brigade is a secular group. How they could be secular martyrs was not examined.
One questioner critiqued the local Islamic community.
“Most of our interactions are as merchants to consumers; consumers without a choice. So your examples of charity in the U.S., of clinics and such, do not happen here,” said Oceana James.
“I don’t live here but see that Moslem lady there; say hi at the end of the meeting and exchange phone numbers,” suggested Walid. At the end of the meeting, that is exactly what happened.
Walid then said Moslems are forbidden to sell items they would not purchase, specifying pork, alcohol and pornography as items no Moslem store should carry.
“Back in Detroit people are familiar with Moslems and if you carried bacon, even non-Moslem patrons would come up and tell you that you aren’t supposed to be selling that,” said Walid.
After an hour and a half of answering questions, Walid left the podium and mingled with the crowd as everyone enjoyed the home made Middle Eastern appetizers, desserts and coffee.

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