Getting to know
Local Muslims explain their faith, beliefs
about others among us
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
Do you know what the Qu'ran is? When was Mohammed born? Have you wondered why Muslim women cover their hair?
About 60 people gathered Oct. 20 at the Fox Valley Islamic Center's mosque in Neenah to learn more about Islam and about Muslim life.
"Islam is the same religion as Abraham and Moses and all the prophets," explained Christopher Goldsmith, executive director of the Milwaukee Art Museum and a convert to Islam. "Submitting to God's will is the basis of our religious belief."
About 5-6% of the U.S. population is Muslim, many of them converts, and it is the second largest of the world's religions.
Participants at the mosque explained several points of Islam to the audience, including:
The role of women: Several Muslim women, some converts, explained that Islam is very respectful of women and protective of them. The choice to wear the head covering, hijab, they added is entirely up to the woman and is an outward sign of their faith.
Mohammed, called the Holy Prophet. Born in 570 A.D., Mohammed began receiving a series of visions from God through the Angel Gabriel, when he was 40. These visions continued for 23 years.
The Qu'ran: The Muslim Holy Book. Mohammed memorized the revelations he received and they were written down by his companions. The Qu'ran consists of over 6,000 verses.
Jihad: Local Muslims agree that this is one of the most misunderstood topics in Islam. It does not mean "a holy war."
Instead, jihad means "struggle" and, as Dr. Kathryn Kueny, a professor of religious studies at Lawrence University in Appleton noted, involves two struggles.
By far the greater struggle, she said, is the "internal struggle to realize who God is, to submit to the one true God internally." The lesser struggle of jihad is a military one, but done in a defensive posture. Kueny noted that, in the lesser jihad, "one should not attack women and children."
Dr. Dan Shaw, a Muslim convert and a professor of religious studies at UW-Oshkosh added that jihad, "when done as an offensive manuever has to be done after an unanimous call by the entire Islamic community."
One question that kept resurfacing was whether or not Osama bin Laden represents Islam. While local Muslims hesitate to speak to bin Laden's personal beliefs, they note that his actions defy Muslim teaching. Salman Aziz, spiritual leader and president of the local mosque said, "The Prophet said that when one makes an act where he disobeys God, at that time, he is not a believer."
Goldsmith, who has made the hajj -- the required pilgrimage to Mohammed's birthplace of Mecca in Saudi Arabia -- said bin Laden's terrorist actions "are not those that any Muslim would accept." He pointed to one of the sayings of the Prophet: "God has no mercy on those who have no mercy on others."
(Salman Aziz will discuss the Muslim faith and culture at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, De Pere. The discussion will be part of the 10th annual renewal of the Covenant between the Green Bay Diocese and three Protestant churches. Dr. Robert Kramer, professor of Middle Eastern History at St. Norbert College, De Pere, will monitor a question-and-answer session after the presentation.)