Sep. 4, 2006: Muslim Panelists Respond To Your Questions: Part Two

Trying to condense my three-hour meeting with a group of Muslims into this space is like trying to drink water from a fire hose: It’s not easy.

A lot of your questions concerned the Muslim view of women. M. J. O’Rourke of Savannah asked: “What do Muslims believe about the rights of women?” Soumaya Khalifa, the female member of the group, said women enjoy special status. “A woman cannot be married off to someone of whom she disapproves. She is not required to spend any money that she brings into the marriage. That is the husband’s responsibility.” Yousef Burke says that Muslim women are required to dress modestly, but so are men. In a dig at Western culture, the panelists say that Muslims look at women who are uncovered as “oppressed” because they are valued as “sex symbols” rather than for their intellect.

Mansour Ansari wanted you to know that four Muslim countries have had female prime ministers: Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh. Jabari Alexander says a female currently heads up the Islamic Society of North America. All the panelists say there is nothing in the Koran that justifies treating women as second-class citizens.

Deanna Cox of Sugar Hill asked the panel to define “infidel.” Amin Tomeh claims there is no such word in Islam. The panelists say the term “infidel” has its origin in Christianity, when Pope Urban urged Crusaders to kill “infidels.” Tomeh says that if any Muslim refers to a Jew or a Christian as an infidel, “They don’t know what they are talking about. God will judge those who judge others.”

All the panelists say Muslims should be tolerant of other faiths, and vice versa. Soumaya Khalifa, who operates the Islamic Speakers Bureau, says she has spoken in both synagogues and Christian churches and believes Jews, Christians and Muslims to be “96 to 97 percent together” on many issues and concerns. Ansari says Muslims, Jews and Christians are “of the book,” meaning they all believe in the same God. Tomeh says Saudi Arabia has no basis in the Koran to prevent people from practicing whatever religion they choose.

Fred Hahn of Roswell asks if a Muslim can leave the faith and accept another religion. Yes, says the panel. Tomeh says the Koran has ample references for allowing people to believe what they want, and that if “God wanted everyone to be of one religion, he would have created that religion.”

As to the infamous cartoon of Muhammad that caused such a stir, they say it was a deliberate attempt to insult Muslims, but it was “turned into a political issue” and the riots were “totally unjustified.”

Don Landrum, a retired Green Beret from Gainesville, asked, “If it came down to a war, would you support your country against the Islamic cause?” “Absolutely,” says Jabril Alexander. “That is not a conflict. We are Americans of Muslim faith, not Muslims living in America. Defending our country comes with citizenship.”

Dave Gibson of Dacula asked whether, if they knew a fellow Muslim who was planning an act of terrorism, they would turn them in. “In a minute!” says Monsour Ansari. Jabril Alexander reminded me that it was a Muslim who informed authorities of the planned attack in Great Britain recently.

Which gets me to the main question you asked: Why don’t moderate Muslims speak out on Islamic terrorism? My panel says that they do, and that the media “muffles” their condemnations and plays up the “sensationalism” of the terrorists. They showed me an ad that ran in newspapers around the state on Sept. 11, 2004, in which Muslim groups condemned the 9/11 attacks, as well as some news releases.

But in my opinion, they need to do more. Muslims need to stage the equivalent of a Million Man March and denounce terrorism long and loud. Frankly, they don’t understand how mistrusted all Muslims are because they haven’t done an effective job of speaking out against terrorism. I suggested to them that actions speak louder than words.

Finally, in the interest of continuing this dialogue, they asked me to refer you to their Web page, www.CAIR.com, and to contact the Islamic Speakers Bureau, www.isbatlanta.org, if your church or synagogue would like to have someone come speak on Islam. That sounds fair to me. From this interview it is apparent that we need to understand each other better and that we have a long way to go.