There are a great deal of negative stories in the news every day regarding the ugly and violent activities on the part of a minority of the world’s Muslim population, so it was educational and refreshing to hear from our speaker at the April monthly meeting. Tehseen Lazzouni, co-director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of San Diego, spoke on Islam as both a culture and a religion. Her clarity, positive approach and patience gave us a view of Islam that we do not see on the evening news.
Beginning with “As-salam alaekum,” which means “Peace be upon you” as a greeting among Muslims. She then encouraged us to respond “Wa alaikum as-salam” meaning “May peace be upon you too.” Lazzouni stressed that Islam is about peace. Fighting is acceptable only in self-defense for a Muslim.
Information on several slides helped us see the diversity among Muslims in terms of race, ethnicity and nationality. There are 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, which equals 25% of the world’s population. Only 20% of Muslims are Arab.
Diversity among Muslims includes nationality, ethnic background, culture/education/upbringing, varying degrees of observance of faith and behavior which may contradict religion. She said what is often in the news is a dark fraction of all Muslims in the United States. Three quarters of Muslims in the United States are U.S. citizens. “Home is here,” she explained.
Lazzouni took us through a quick look at Muslims in the U.S. 20% of Africans brought to America in the 18th and 19th centuries were Muslims. Since 1875, Muslims have immigrated to the U.S. for various reasons. Prominent Muslims today include Keith Ellison, a progressive Democrat from Minnesota; Fareed Zakaria of CNN and Newsweek International; and Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America.
Lazzouni went on to explain that spiritual support comes from the five pillars of Islam which are:
- a profession of faith
- five daily prayers in the direction of Mecca
- a required donation equal to 2.5% of annual savings given as each individual chooses
- fasting during Ramadan, the 9th month of the lunar calendar and,
- a pilgrimage to Mecca once in your life if you are able.
Muslims emphasize both faith and action. Believers cultivate a relationship with God and positive behaviors with others. Major beliefs are God, angels, prophets, the Holy Book, an afterlife and God’s will. Islam encourages moderation and forbids terrorism. Gender equality means men and women have equal rights. They share opportunities in education, employment and ownership of property. Men and women marry by consent and are equal in divorce and custody of children.
She closed by emphasizing the Muslim ideals include unbiased justice, mercy to all creation, peaceful co-existence, sanctity of human life, respect for human dignity and universal brotherhood.