March 12, 2006

Interfaith Discourse

Judge for yourself:

Three experts this week helped penetrate the veil of misinformation and ignorance that shrouds Islamic religion and culture in this country.

Calling on books as diverse as the Koran and "The 9/11 Commission Report," the trio sought to counter the willful "disconnecting of dots" that has given rise to harmful myths about Muslims and their perception of the world.

The two-hour presentation came as the last of a six-part weekly series titled "Islam: A Religion and a Way of Life," which the Charlotte-Glades Library System has sponsored at the Mid-County Regional Library in Port Charlotte since Jan. 23.

Last week's program featured a discussion of Western and Islamic concepts of war by Dr. Ahmed N. Elrefai; the reading of an open letter to Osama Bin Laden by Hassan Hammami, a former director for Proctor & Gamble; and an appearance by author Samar Jarrah, a former reporter and professor, who provided political context to current events in the Middle East and urged listeners to look beyond media spin to understand them.

Elrefai stressed that, despite their title, the talks were "not for the purposes of conversion, comparing religions or engaging in political discussions," but just presenting the truth about the religion of Islam, which, Elrefai noted after his talk, embraces Christian and Jewish prophets among its own.

"The Koran contains more references to the Virgin Mary than the Bible, itself." he said.

Elrefai drew other parallels between these ostensibly divergent cultures in noting the overlap between the "just war" tradition of the West, as defined by St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Islamic "holy war," or "jihad," as spelled out in the Koran. He reminded listeners of the Vatican's condemnation of "preemptive and preventive war," such as that the United States launched in Iraq. Islam condemns it, too.

Hammami introduced his open letter to bin Laden by noting that none of the U.S. newspapers he has approached has agreed to publish it.

The lengthy missive upbraids "Usamah" for violating Koranic tenets against persecuting people of other religions, declaring war on innocent civilians, denying women the rights God gave them and twisting the meaning of jihad.

"Your interpretation of Islam is regressive, intolerant ... vengeful and oppressive," Hammami read. "Yours is a political movement, not a religious cause. You have led the enemies of Islam to see Islam as you have interpreted it, selectively, narrowly and in a non-Muslim way. These are the exact opposites of what Islam is: progressive, tolerant, broad-minded, merciful, peaceful and empowering."

Hammami cited the Koran at length to stress discrepancies between its tenets and bin Laden's preachings.

Jarrah advised her fellow Americans to "go beyond the headlines and do some homework on their own to understand the complexity of foreign policy and international relations."

Jarrah, who holds a master's degree in political science from the University of South Florida, said colonial shackles bred under development in the Middle East when the region was divided upon the Ottoman Empire's collapse after World War I, giving rise to what has been called "a peace to end all peace."

This was followed by the 1947 creation by "Christians, Europeans and Russians" of the Jewish state of Israel "in the heart of the Arab world...(with the ultimatum) accept it or leave," Jarrah said. "Unfortunately, my grandfather didn't accept it, and all I have left is a picture of my house."

The three speakers -- all naturalized citizens who employ the first person plural when talking about "the American people" -- also called for the lifting of another veil: the shroud of secrecy and deception the Bush administration erected to blur comprehension of its motives in the Middle East.

Elrefai chided people, such as former national security advisor Paul Wolfowitz, for spouting "a pervasive message that connects the wrong dots" in order to foment a "clash of civilizations."

Jarrah's geopolitical take turned economic fast.

"By controlling the price of oil, I can influence the global economy," she said.



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