Q: Can you talk about education of women in Islam in reference to Afghanistan / Taliban.
Ans: Obviously there are several problems in Afghanistan and with Taliban. The news which we see about things happening may not be based on Islam but some one’s whims or their local culture. e.g. let’s talk about the Taliban’s opposition to the education of women. First revelation to Prophet Muhammad started with “Read: In the name of thy Lord”. In the time of prophet travel to far distances was hard, so he said, “Learn, even if you have to go to China for it.” Even in Afghanistan context if we see that today Greg Mortensen of ‘Three Cups of Tea’ fame, is running many schools for boys and girls in Afghanistan, without any security guards, army or police without any problem. (Picture shows from left: A young Bible class student, Rev.Kathy MacIntosh Smith, Khalid Saeed and Church Elder, Ron Churchil )
Q : What do you think about current hate situation and Islamophobia in USA?
Ans : Actually I should be asking this question to all of you in the class. However as you asked me, on the first anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy I wrote an Op-ed piece in our local paper ‘The Daily Democrat’ quoting then a local TV radio personality and now national talk show host on Fox network Tom Sullivan.
One day he opened his program about political correctness in our country that one can hardly say anything about any one or group of people anymore without a great reaction and protests where people get fired from job. Even the animals have PETA looking out for them, but, he said that any one can say anything about Muslim’s or Islam and no one care. He asked his audience to call his show and answer the question. The point to note is that that program aired a long before 9/11 tragedy.
Now several interests, national and international are exploiting the situation to their benefits and 24/7 fanning the hate all forms of media, hence we see what we see today. They are exploiting people’s ignorance about Muslims and Islam and intentionally spreading hate and lies.
Q: We wondered about how you study the Qur'an. How much Arabic do you learn?
Ans: The obligatory five daily prayers must be offered ONLY in Arabic language in original text of holy Quran. Therefore, every Muslim knows some verses of the Quran by heart. The meanings of these verses are learnt through translations in their native language.
The Quran has been translated in hundreds of languages. Many authentic translations are available in English to study the teachings of the Quran.
Q: When we study the Bible we attribute some rules to the ancient culture in which they were written, other teachings we see as values for all time for us. In the Presbyterian Church we do not take every part literally, although some Christians do. We understand that for you the Qur'an is more holy, more filled with Allah, than our Bible is to us. So we wondered, within Islam, are there various interpretations and understandings of what is written?
Ans: Muslims believe the Quran is a divine book and true word of Allah. It’s not a book of history but a book of guidance, though there are references to the ancient historical incidents. Quran over and over asks us to read the book, look around the universe and think to draw conclusions. Each human being has independent thinking; hence different people do draw different conclusions, sometimes on details and sometimes even more serious issues.
Q: We wondered how you combine the American principle of the "separation of church and state" which is intended to allow for full citizenship for people of diverse religions, and the teachings of Islam which so integrate religion with all of life.
Ans: American principle of the "separation of church and state" does not create any problem for me in my daily life here. Our constitution protects all my freedoms here to worship the way I want, to speak, to live life with freedom and affords me all the opportunities possible for any other citizen of this great country of ours. Islam and the USA constitution are very compatible on larger scale other than few exceptions. For example drinking is forbidden in my religion and in an Islamic country drinking will be forbidden by law as well. But here in USA law allows us to drink but it does not force me to drink, therefore I do not face any problem.
Q: We wondered about your life experiences as Muslims who have immigrated to the U.S. So much of what we hear from Iran, for example, is about all that is wrong with the U.S.A., and yet here you are kind and loving members of this community. So how does that work for you and your faith? Another way of looking at it might be to say, what do you see as good and what as bad about America?
Ans: The most important point in my view for us to keep in mind is that there are government policies and then there are people of a country. In most countries most people have no ill feelings for ordinary people of any other country. American public at large, I have experienced as a loving caring, most charitable nation in the world. They are always first and most generous to help regardless where the disaster happens. Even here in Woodland some folks disfigured statutes of Mary & Jesus outside Holy Rosary Church and some threw rocks at our Mosque windows. On the other hand you welcomed us with open arms and a lot of love. After 9/11 tragedy my next door neighbors first time came inside my home to assure me and my family that we should not be worried. I live in a great country among great people.
Q: We wondered about children and teen-agers. Do they have a ceremony or time when they affirm the Five Pillars of Faith for themselves?
Ans: Like Christianity, there is no baptism in Islam. Traditionally, when a Muslim child is born the parents are required to say call of the prayer softly in the newborn’s ear. This tradition is a message that the child starts taking effects of the environment from that very moment of birth, so the education of a child starts from day one.
There is a small ceremony when the child starts learning to read Quran. Teenagers learn about Islam through participating in the Islamic practices with their parents and going to mosque.