Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Blessed by the Imam

On Monday, March 1, I attended a class at TN Tech University in Cookeville, TN. It was more of a seminar for students, but they had also invited the public to attend. The speaker for the class was the Imam from the   Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, TN, Sheik Ossama Mohamed Bhloul. He was dressed in traditional Muslim clothing and was going to talk about the various cultures; though as the Imam stated, it's hard to talk about cultures without talking about religion. 

Before the session was to begin, an older blonde woman passed out some papers to everyone in the room. Thinking it was for the class, I gladly accepted it. While waiting for the Imam to speak, I scanned over the information, and it was full of hateful information towards the Muslims and their religion. Surely this can't be what the Imam is going to talk about. It can't be true. If it were, I was going to walk out. Fortunately, I waited to see what he was going to say first and saved my judgment for later.

He spoke for maybe a half-hour and then the Professor opened the floor to questions; he did request that his students be allowed the first opportunity to ask because asking a question was part of their assignment. A few students asked considerate and thoughtful questions inquiring about the religion and cultures. After those students asked their questions, the blonde woman who passed out the information stood up. It turned out she was not from Tech, but was from outside the college. She quoted a verse in the Koran about the infidels, and cutting people's heads off (wish I could remember exactly what she had said). Let's just say all respect went right out the window and I knew we were in for a wild ride. 

The Imam gently tried to answer her question explaining the verse. He mentioned that as in all Bibles, you have got to take the culture, the time it was written, and why it was being written into account, and not all verses apply to current times. He explained that this was written about an event in the Muslim history when they were at war with another group. That particular group was called infidels because they were not Muslim and they were on the opposing side of the war. It had nothing to do with today. She would not accept his answer. (Again, I wish I could remember the complete details of his answer.)

It was at this point that I started to get very upset and almost in tears. It was one thing to come in and ask questions that you wanted to clarify in the Muslim religious beliefs, but it was another to come in and ask accusatory questions and not consider the answers whether they were the truth or not (I believed he was speaking the truth). I wanted to stand up and defend the Imam, to do SOMETHING to bring peace to the situation, but I wasn't sure if I could. I turned to the Professor and mouthed, “Can I ask a question?” I think he was just as surprised at their outbursts and was trying to think quickly how to handle the situation without making it worse.

Next, another adult woman from outside the school asked another angry, hateful question. The Imam tried to politely answer, but she argued with him and refused to accept his answer, let alone let him finish what he was saying.

I kept raising my hand slightly in the air so that I could be given the floor, and finally, the Imam was able to call on me (I was sitting in front). I began, “First of all, thank you for being here. It's an honor and a privilege.” That's when I started to cry. “I'm sorry. It just really bothers me what these people are saying and the disrespect that they are showing to you.” The audience applauded and it took a moment for it to die down for me to continue. 

I wish I could remember everything I said so that I can repeat here word-for-word, but I can only write what I remember saying and what I think I said. It all became a blur after my first couple of statements. I do remember saying that I was a motivational speaker, Ordained Interfaith Minister, and a writer, and I write and speak about finding the good in people and in all faiths. We are all one people and a part of each other.

I also remember saying something along the lines of, “The same things that people are accusing the Muslims of doing, Christians are also doing. Some Christians are trying to force their beliefs on others and believe that everyone in the world should be Christian, and some are using violence to do so; also that if people don’t believe the way they do, they’re going to hell.” (I want to make it clear that I am talking about the extremists on both sides and not the religions in general.)

“I hear all this hate talk…hate talk TV, hate talk radio, and hate talk religion, and people using selected Bible verses (mostly taken out of context) from various Bibles to back up their beliefs. I also said that we need to practice the practical teachings of Jesus when he said that we should love one another…that pure, unconditional, perfect love that Jesus and all the great spiritual teachers taught.”

Again, I really don't remember what all I said, but I remember the audience applauding several times. I say this not to give the impression of “look how great I was and what I said,” but to show how most everyone in that room felt the same way. I had so much respect for those students. Whether they agreed or not with what the Imam said, they were respectful.

Several other students had an opportunity to ask questions after we were able to get off the rants of the adults from outside the school, and one young woman mentioned the admiration she had for the all the young, upcoming Imams, and stated that they showed more respect than some of the other adults in this room. (She got a round of applause.)

One young man said that he had lived in Iraq all his life and just recently moved here. While there, he stated that all religions got along together and honored each other’s beliefs. Muslims were not trying to convert all the non-Muslims, and they were definitely NOT killing them. (Again, not talking about the extremists. Also, how can we accuse Muslims of trying to convert everyone to Islam, when most Christians are trying to convert everyone to Christianity?)

Another young woman (white) said that she lived in Europe for a time and her family lived in a Muslim community. She said that she has never felt so welcomed and at home than she did when she lived in that community. Everywhere else (including America), she has felt judged. The Muslim community welcomed her with open arms, treated her family with respect, and they all got along very well.

The information that the Imam gave to us was very insightful. He mentioned that before 9/11, Muslims in other countries (as well as here) loved America. They thought it a great nation. After 9/11 happened, they started hearing about the hate that Americans were showing against them and they got confused. They weren't the ones who caused 9/11. There were many Muslims who were also killed in the Twin Towers. There was a Muslim Center/Temple in one of the buildings. Muslims came to the aid and helped right along with everyone else in trying to help those who were involved in this tragedy. They couldn't understand where all this hate was coming from. We all had a chuckle when the Imam stated “Even Muslims have crazy people (talking about those who caused the tragedy).”

The Imam mentioned that we all came from the same Mother and Father speaking of Adam and Eve (for those who take the Adam and Eve story literally). Muslims believe that Jesus was a Prophet and have great respect for him. They are a peaceful and loving people regardless of what people think. He also mentioned that Muslims and Christians have the same Ten Commandments. (I looked this up and they are basically the same with a few very minor differences.)

There is one God for all religions, and the Imam made this statement. An adult male in the audience yelled out something about not believing in the same God and that Jews and Christians believe in different Gods. (Not sure how Jews got into the conversation.) The Imam denounced this and again reiterated that we all have the same God. We just call Him by different names.

Before he ended the session, the Imam gave a “prayer” to God (and He called Him God, though he may have also called Him Allah). I wish I could remember the exact words he used, but it was a beautiful prayer/statement, and not once, did I hear anything said against anyone or anything in his prayer. It was for the greater good of all.

Afterward, the Professor came up to me, shook my hand, and sincerely thanked me for what I said. I was standing not far from the Imam, so I went to him and thanked him again for being here and apologized for the behavior of the outside adults. I also asked if it would be okay if I had my picture taken with him. (As a speaker, I try to get my picture taken with other speakers for my promotional materials). The students had gotten in a line and were shaking the Imam's hand and thanking him for being here. Several students also came up to me and thanked me for what I said. I could only say thank you and give them a hug.

One young woman was in tears, almost to the sobbing point. I went over to her and asked her if she was okay. She said it just really bothered her by what the adults said. I gave her a hug and whispered in her ear, “Just bless them. They're speaking out of ignorance.” Later, she told the Imam that she and her boyfriend were Atheists and they always try to learn about other religions, etc., and what happened with the outside adults really upset her.

I give the Imam a lot of credit. In spite of the contempt and hateful attitudes of the adults who were verbally combative with him, he kept his composure through the whole thing. He tried to respectfully answer their questions, even when they came back at him with anger and kept interrupting him so he couldn't complete what he was trying to say. 

After the seminar was over, the Imam went to the back of the room where a few of the adults were lingering, and he spoke with them. Tempers were a cooler so they were able to have a little calmer conversation. I also give the Imam credit for making the choice to go back and talk with them further in a calm discussion. How many of us could have done that?

Before he left, I had my picture taken with him and thanked him again. On the way home, I was trying to process my feelings from the whole event. I was still upset by what happened with the outside adults, but at the same time, it felt good knowing that I stood up for him, as well as did the students. 

I also discovered that I was really passionate about doing something to help end the ignorance, the misinformation, and the hate towards the Muslims (and any other person and/or group) who are being persecuted in any way shape or form. I’m not sure how I’m going to do this. I do know that I will not fall prey to ignorance. I am going to do my research and find the Truth; an objective Truth looking through the eyes of God and of love. I am going to continue to work on having love, compassion, and understanding for all people regardless of their color, race, religion, or walk of life. 

As I investigate the Truth of Islam and the Muslim faith, I will continue to write articles sharing what I have learned. I invite all those who hold any fear towards this religion or the Muslim people to do your own research and don’t just believe the hate, ignorance, and misinformation that is being perpetuated by the media and other religious leaders.

Keep an open mind. It is only in opening your mind to wisdom and knowledge about all things that you will open yourself up to the Truth. Try to see through God’s eyes, the eyes of love, compassion, and oneness.  (If you don’t believe in God, just add an “o” and call it “Good.”)

In no way am I trying to force my own personal beliefs and feelings on anyone. I honor your right to your own beliefs. My purpose is to live in love, and I choose to do so in whatever way I feel I am capable. I invite you to choose to do the same.

Please stay tuned for more articles about what I learn, not only about Islam and Muslims, but about my spiritual journey in general. 

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