Middle East Scholar, Now at Penn, Dissects Islam's Nuts and Bolts
Nearly every day, the papers bring fresh news of Sunni and Shi'ite sectarian violence erupting throughout Iraq. While these events are frequent, Westerners -- especially Americans -- find that explanations are scarce, for one simple reason: Few outside the region know much about Islam and its history.
To answer some of the myriad questions about the ongoing conflict, the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Advanced Judaic Studies scheduled a lecture, titled "What Jews Should Know About Islam," held last week at Adath Israel in Merion Station. The response was considerable.
Extra chairs lined the aisles as the curious came to listen to the analysis offered by Dr. Robert Morrison, who provided a primer on the history and tenets of the faith, as well as an explanation of the many similarities, and key differences, between Judaism and Islam.
Morrison is now the Martin Gruss Fellow at the Judaic Studies Center here, and an assistant professor of religion at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. He grew up in a Reform home, and earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University in Middle East and Asian languages and cultures.
"Islam is the fastest growing religious tradition in the world," said Morrison, as it touts 1 billion followers. Approximately 85 percent are Sunnis, while the remainder are mostly Shi'ite, a division that arose after a contentious debate on who should be the successor of Mohammad.
At the time of the schism, Sunni Muslims followed the caliph Abu Bakr, who was chosen by the consensus of the community after Mohammad's death, while Shi'ite Muslims followed Ali, the charismatic cousin of Mohammad and the first male convert to Islam, noted the scholar.
He then clarified a key point that isn't often made in the media: An Islamist and a Muslim are not the same. "An Islamist is someone who advocates Islam as a political solution," he said.
From the political Islamists to the Sufi mystics, Islam means different things to different Muslims, he noted. "Any Muslim is allowed to undertake [his] own legal reasoning," he said. "Islamic law -- despite its fearsome reputation -- is not set in stone." Reason and consensus are vital tools in the interpretation of Islamic law, he added.
He explained that Islam is like Judaism in that a member of the clergy is not necessary to facilitate a religious experience. "It's not about theological hairsplitting," said Morrison. "It's about having a relationship to God."
A critical difference is that the holy book of Islam, the Koran, is God's speech, said Morrison, without the intermediary that often appears in other holy books of various religions. The Koran is considered a miracle, he said, because it is the exact speech of Allah, transcribed by Mohammad. "It's seen as the perfection of religion."
Members of the audience asked about the escalating conflict in Iraq, and why it's occurring. Morrison pointed to the vestiges of distrust left over from Saddam Hussein's rule, and that certain Iraqis are willfully ignoring the past and succumbing to violence.
The long history of Islam, he noted, has been marked by an "incredible rationalist tradition," with scientific advances being made throughout the millennia in mathematics, astronomy and medicine, all of which have been overshadowed by the fury of sectarian strife.
"When you encounter Islamists," said Morrison, "they tend to neglect what happened between Mohammad and now."
SUCCESSFUL NAATIA MUSHAERA ON 2.21.14
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August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas
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Mirza A Beg
PLANNED MUSLIMS RESPONSE TO QUR'AN BURNING BY PASTOR JONES ON 9/11/13 IN MULBERRY, FLORIDA
We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.
Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”
God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.
We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration (www.UnitydayUSA.com) held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.
Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.
As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.
We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.
We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.
We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.
Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.
Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.
We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.
The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.