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ISSUE 118 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/6/2005

Conference gives insight on Islam

By Jean Mullins
News Editor

Friday, May 6, 2005

On Saturday, St. Olaf’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) and the Carleton Islamic Association (CIA) hosted the first annual Islamic Conference at St. Olaf. Mustafa Dualeh ’06 from St. Olaf and Emin Lelic from Carleton, introduced the conference, defining its goal by quoting a famous Muslim comedian: "to put the fun back in fundamentalism." Both Dualeh and Lelic told the audience that through the conference they hoped that myths and stereotypes would be debunked and that the "beauty" of Islam would become apparent.

The introduction was followed by a recitation from the Qur’an by Dr. Imam Senad Agic, the Grand Mufti of the Bosnian community of America. He was followed by the respective presidents of the MSA and the CIA, Salah Mohamed ’07 and Ali Khaki. Mohamed spoke about the creation of the MSA and the establishment of a mosque at St. Olaf. He said of a mosque at a Lutheran school, "that’s the irony but that’s the beauty as well."

Shareef Alshinnawi, an engineer at IBM in Rochester, Minn., who spends his free time educating people on the Islamic faith and community, spoke first. He explained that the Islamic faith has many of the same roots as Christianity and Judaism, including many of the same key figures.

However, in Islam, people such as Jesus and Moses are considered prophets, and the Prophet Muhammed is the last prophet. Alshinnawi also told the audience about the misconceptions concerning Muslims and Arabs. He said many assume that the majority of Muslims are Arab, but in fact only 18 percent of Muslims in the world are Arab.

Alshinnawi also described the beliefs of the Muslim faith. "Islam is a complete way of life," he said.

He explained that Islamic law is comparable to any form of government, and all the rules come from the Qur’an or from what he called "analogy with deduction," in which leaders of the Muslim communities use their knowledge of the Qur’an to make rules concerning issues not mentioned in the Qur’an. He also explained that under the dictatorships in many Muslim countries, the Muslim law has not been upheld. "Things have gone downhill under these alternative governments," he said.

As he ended his speech, he told the audience, "Like all other religions, Islamic teachings should be used for good, not bad."

After lunch and the noon prayer, Agic spoke about the immigration and assimilation of Bosnian Muslims. He told the audience that 72 percent of immigrants he and his associates have surveyed said that they have developed an appreciation and attachment to American culture and have assimilated, even though American culture often conflicts with Islam.

On the other hand, Agic told the audience that the Muslim religion is often a barrier to assimilation. He said that different cultural views between generations are also an obstacle. Agic emphasized the need to keep one’s Islamic identity in the face of American culture.

A series of student-led workshops gave attendees a chance to interact with each other and conference leaders. The three sessions included: "Being a Muslim in a College Setting," led by Mohamed and Khaki; "Experiences of Muslim Women in a College Setting," led by Khullani Abdullahi and Ramallah Bille; "What Does it Mean to be Muslim…" led by Dualeh; and a tour of the St. Olaf mosque led by Faiz Abdirahman ‘06.

The conference finished with a speech entitled "The Challenges and Opportunities of Being a Muslim in Pre-and Post-9/11" by Husseyin Abiva. Abiva, an American Muslim lives in Chicago and works at a nonprofit organization for Islamic schools.

Abiva told the audience that his observations were based on his 25 years of experience and involvement in the Muslim community. Abiva explained that a power vacuum after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1924 allowed "other religious interpretations to be thrust to the forefront."

He said that the Saudi family began to spread a "puritanical" view of Islam, called Wahabbism which is espoused by Al Qaeda.

Abiva told the audience that Wahabbism has been prevalent all over the world, including the United States, and that at a certain point, the only literature available on Islam was political and puritanical. "I have been to conventions where intolerant views were preached from the podium," he said.

That view remained very prevalent, Abiva said, until Sept. 11, 2001.

"What 9-11 did with all that radicalism is it started to make the average mosque-goer think," he said. "It served to dampen this religious puritanism, this intolerance that existed."

Abiva also said that many Muslims were shocked and saddened by the events of Sept. 11. "Islam in no way justifies terrorism," he said.

Abiva pointed out that there is a need for strong leaders in the Muslim community. But he also said that many of the brightest young Muslims are under pressure to go to medical school rather than go into teaching and counseling. As a result, Abiva feels that the Muslim community is led by very smart people who do not have the training to lead. "The Muslim community needs to think about that," he said.

Overall the organizers felt that the conference was a success. "It’s good to see the St. Olaf community interested in learning about [Islam]," Brandi Dumonceaux ’05 said.

Carrie Marotz ’07 agreed. "I’m really pleased with the turnout," she said. "It’s good to get more background and a better understanding [of Islam]."

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