Muhammad cartoon sparks Islam discussion

A religiously diverse crowd came together Saturday night to discuss the Danish cartoon of Muhammad that is responsible for a recent spate of violence in the Middle East.

The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo located in Perrysburg, Ohio, played host to the meeting, which featured distinguished speaker Imam Yahya Hendi.

Hendi is a Muslim Chaplain at Georgetown University, which is the first American university to hire a full-time Muslim Chaplain. He was also one of the Muslim leaders who met with President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“It is an honor for me [to be here] because I believe we are making history tonight,” Hendi said. “It is time for our religious community to transcend the boundaries” which has kept us from coming together. There is no other choice” but to come together. Otherwise, we will end up in a war which will claim the lives of all of us.”

Hendi’s presentation, instead of attacking the caricature of Muhammad, stressed the underlying ties that Islam has to Judaism and Christianity. He also showed the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of Islam.

“We need to foster the spirit of peace” no matter what religion we come from,” Hendi said.

He also feels that is perfectly reasonable to question the violent reactions of some of the Muslims in the Middle East.

“Muhammad would not have approved of them,” Hendi said. “The violence that some of those protests have brought about are unacceptable under the teachings of Islam and Muhammad.”

Hendi mentioned that in the Koran it is told that Muhammad taught forgiveness as the best possible action. However, he said that the Muslims reacting with violence are doing so because no one would listen to their protest otherwise.

Hendi also mentioned that the overwhelming reaction against the cartoon is because of the respect that Muslims have for Muhammad.

“When you attack Muhammad, you attack the very source of knowledge from which we devise our theology,” he said.

One of the reasons that Hendi mentioned for Americans looking at the situation in the Middle East with disdain is because of the ignorance which most Americans have concerning Islam.

“You fear that which you do not understand,” Hendi said. He also challenged all Americans to study the Koran so they can get a better understanding of Islam.

“Nothing shall set you free like the truth,” Hendi said. “Your pride in what you have does not give you the right to demonize others.”

He mentioned that Muhammad was one of the first individuals to speak out against racism and he stressed peace in everyday situations and advocated war only in self-defense, never in attack. Muhammad also followed the Shari’ah, which signifies the Islamic way of life and Islamic laws, according to Hendi. Also, according to Hendi, this important part of Islam has been violated by one of the most notorious men in the world.

“On Sept. 11, Osama bin Laden violated all of Shari’ah,” he said.

George Hall, a Christian Toledo resident, thought that the presentation was extremely positive.

“I thought it was pretty educational,” he said. “I didn’t realize the extent to which peace was a part of that religion.”

Hall also believes that the protesters weren’t justified in their reaction, but feels that in Western culture we don’t consider the importance of the other party’s viewpoint.

“We expect the whole world” to respond the same way we would,” Hall said.

Hall thinks education is a big key to understanding between the two different cultures, as does Imam Hendi.

“We need to engage the youth,” said Hendi. “[They need] to learn more about each other. In the west we need to be educated about how to be sensitive” in the east we need to be educated about how to be sensitive.”

This lack of sensitivity may be a big part of the problem, according to Hendi.

“American journalism has become insensitive about issues like this,” he said. Publishing the cartoon in America could just “add fuel to the fire,” according to Hendi. He recommends reading books by Muslim authors about Islam to become educated about the issues facing the world today.