Two weeks ago, I went to a sociology class to give a presentation on Islam. I have gone to this same class for at least the last four years. The experience is always interesting and challenging. Over the years, I have found that many of the questions remain the same, but become more nuanced, although sometimes the questions are new and force me to stop and think. In this post, I wanted to talk about the experience and the questions that students often ask about Islam.
Usually, at the start of the presentation, I begin by giving a disclaimer: I am only one of 1.57 billion Muslims and what I say doesn’t represent the entire Muslim world. I think that this is important because often people take the opinion of a few Muslims to represent the entire Muslim worldwide population and Islam as a whole. This is where many stereotypes are introduced (and one of the things that Inside Islam tries to address). After the disclaimer, I give a short overview of the 5 pillars of Islam and then open it for questions. Suprisingly, students can always fill up an hour and fifteen minutes with questions!
Questions almost always come up about the role of women in Islam, the relationship between the genders, what Islam says about other religions, when and how Muslims pray, the difference between Sunnis and Shias, and Islam’s position on violence. The last question on violence has of course became more prevalent since 9/11, but in this most recent presentation specifically arose in the context of the Fort Hood shooting. Even though I have answered these questions many times, every time I have to think carefully about my response because I want to be able to show the Islam that I know, not the version that leads to negative responses to my faith.
The topics I make sure to emphasize include the role of Jesus and other Judeo-Christian prophets in Islam, because so many people do not realize that Muslims share a common prophetic lineage with Judaism and Christianity. More often than not, students are surprised by the respect accorded to Jesus in Islam and the role he plays in the Muslim worldview. I also try to talk about the Qur’an–not only what it means to Muslims but also how it is misunderstood as a text. Finally, I always try to provide information about the Prophet Muhammad because I find that many people do not really know that much about him and if they did maybe their ideas about Islam would shift.
I have been giving this kind of presentation since I was in high school, but it was after 9/11 that it almost became necessary for Muslims to go out and engage in discussions about Islam with non-Muslims. Sharing your experience of the faith gives a human face to something many people do not understand. That is also why a project like Inside Islam is so important because it provides the space to really address those questions. For example, Lisa Bu, my fellow blogger on Inside Islam, has been conducting a series of interviews on campus with professors and students about topics related to Islam in order to establish two-way communication. Moreover, in an effort to further acheive this goal, the next Inside Islam radio show, on December 29th, will be an open line so that listeners can call in and give feedback on the blog and the radio show.
What are your questions about Islam? Please share your questions and comments below.