My Religion professor is amazing. Today, she brought in Aaysha Noor, a Muslim woman and speaker, as a guest lecturer. (If you go to the linked website, Ms. Noor is the woman in the middle, in a pale pink head scarf.)
Today was probably my first real opportunity to engage with Islam, apart from reading I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. (By the way, Malala is one of my most favorite people. I would love the opportunity to meet her and talk to her. At one point while I was at school last semester, she was speaking just twenty-five minutes from me. I was, and still am very upset I missed the opportunity to see her.)
Ms. Noor in a Muslim- American, was born in Pakistan and moved to the United States when she was twenty-five. Her husband came to the America before she did, in order to find a place to live. While he and a darker skinned friend were looking for a place, someone called the FBI on them. Also, Ms. Noor has not always worn the hijab, but began doing so after the election. Her son is in school, and recently received a textbook which claimed Islam was full of violent people and Prophet Muhammad was daydreaming when he received the Qur’an, but displayed Christianity in loving terms.
The notes I took from class today are probably some of my most favorite from this class. Ms. Noor was able to elaborate on concepts and theology I know a bit about, and she helped me create a better sense of Islam, and how it interacts with Christianity.
She opened by saying “I am a Muslim, and it is part of my identity full-time. I feel your religion can’t be part-time.”. Right off the bat I knew this was going to be good. She went on to critique the notion of America being a melting pot. A melting pot implies assimilation and oneness; a numbing of differences and uniqueness. However, Ms. Noor created the analogy of salsa, saying, “America is more salsa than melting pot; still a single united dish, but with clear distinguishable parts.”.
She outlined the Five Pillars of Islam:
- Shahada – the declaration of faith (“There is no god but God (and) Muhammad is the messenger of God.” It is essential to utter it to become a Muslim and to convert to Islam.)
- Salat – praying five times a day (sunrise, noon, afternoon, evening, and night)
- Zakat – giving charity (minimum of 2.5% tax set aside specifically for charity)
- Swam – fasting (particularly during the month of Ramadan)
- Hajj – pilgrimage to Mecca (required of every Muslim at least once in their life)
Ms. Noor also described the six main beliefs:
- Belief in Allah
- Belief in prophets (Adam, Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed)
- Belief in angels
- Belief in holy books (not just Qur’an, but also the Bible and the Torah)
- Belief in the Day of Judgment
- Belief in the Divine
She also explained that wearing the hijab is a choice (comparable to Christian head coverings and the surrounding conversation). Saudi Arabia forces women to wear the hijab, but Pakistan does not. Also, Ms. Noor explained Shari Law, mentioning that it means “path to the water”. It is the moral code that Muslims live by, similar to the Jewish Halakha. In terms of Shari Law, Muslims are supposed to follow “the law of the land”, meaning the rules and laws of whichever country they are living in. So in terms of America, America Muslims are supposed to abide by the Untied States Constitution, instead of Pakistani or Saudi Arabian rules and laws.
Other eye – opening tidbits:
- Islam is derived from the word meaning “peace”, and means to “submit to the will of Allah”.
- Allah is the Arabic word for God, and it is never plural. (Ms. Noor used the analogy of the different names used for mothers)
- Muslims believe Hagar was Abraham’s wife and Ishmael was the legitimate son, which is directly opposite from Judeo-Christian teachings of Hagar being a slave and Ishmael illegitimate.
- Jesus Christ is listed by name at least twenty times in the Qur’an, whereas the prophet Muhammad is named significantly less.
- I was aware that Muslims, after naming a prophet, say “Peace be upon him”. However, I was amazed to learn that this extends to Jesus Christ as well.
- Jerusalem is just as important to Muslims as to Jews and Christians.
- Roughly ten to fifteen percent of the Africans brought over as slaves during the slave trade were Muslims.
It was really refreshing to hear about Islam from a “full-time” believer, and active participant, instead of from news outlines and religious scholars. And I feel, like all things, it is important to recognize and acknowledge misconceptions and stereotypes. Hearing how she encounters hatred and discrimination on a regular basis, made me reflect on my own faith, and how those experiences would make me feel.
I can’t imagine being in American Muslims shoes, or even any Muslim for that matter. I can’t imagine what ignorant hatred feels like. I can’t imagine the devotion and faith it must take not to step away from the religion. I can’t imagine what it feels like to hear wrong and ignorant facts about my religion everyday, and then facing horrible comments. I can’t imagine living in a country where my faith is the minority, and where I would have to prove myself and my faith everyday.
I know the stereotypes are wrong. But I had a moment of revelation during class today. Do not modern attitudes towards Islam stem from the fear and hatred of terrorism? I don’t claim every Muslim wants to kill every non-believer, but are Americans acting resentful and angry because they are trying to be safe?
Is it possible that the current fear of Muslims, due to ISIS and world-wide terrorism, is stemming from the same place, as the anger and frustration towards Christians, due to West Borough Baptist Church and similar extremist groups?
Today’s class was powerful, and I’m very thankful for a professor that encourages interfaith dialog and discussion. Because, not only does it help me understand the world, it helps me understand my own faith, and encourages my own Christian growth.