Muslim speaker defends faith

Abigail Fallon | Staff Reporter
From Print [Nov. 18, 2014]
| Legacy

The first full-time Muslim Life Coordinator and Chaplain at Princeton visited LU last week to discuss a controversial and timely topic: violent radicalism. Sohaib Sultan, who has written many books including “The Koran for Dummies,” began his speech by saying that, “Islam is rooted in the idea, the ideal, of compassion.” He acknowledged that in conflict areas like Iran and Pakistan, extreme suffering is sometimes met with extreme violence, but that traditional Islam does not condone these practices. The Quran, he said, teaches the sacredness of human life, the importance of honoring people and not disparaging another’s dignity, and forgiveness and reconciliation. Much of this is overlooked, however, when extremists “cherry pick” through the text and use excerpts to justify their own actions, which Sultan said are often politically and not religiously motivated.

A classic case is that of Osama Bin Laden, who wrote a “fatwa” entitled “Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places” in 1996. According to the Islamic Supreme Council of America, a fatwa is an educated legal opinion on an issue pertaining to Islamic law. Bin Laden had no such credentials or support from the Muslim community, yet his letter was widely circulated in the media.

When 126 Muslim scholars issued the legitimate fatwa “Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi” this year, denouncing the extremist ideology and actions of ISIS, it was hardly
as acknowledged. The letter explicitly condemns the killing of innocent people, many of whom are, in fact, Muslim.

This, according to Sultan, is “the crisis of the modern period,” because “Men and women are competing to be spokespeople for Islam.” He said that Bin Laden and leaders like him have used mostly political rhetoric to justify their claims, padding it with out-of-context religious doctrine. Islam, Sultan said, is a relatively unorganized religion without a hierarchy of leaders. Thus, the primary authority lies with scholars who are generally outshined by militant extremists with big personalities and even bigger weapons.

Islam has thus become a misrepresented, misunderstood religion.

LU Religion professor Matthew Bruce, who attended the Nov. 10 speech, said, “Here is actually a Muslim explaining from a perspective of his own faith.” Bruce said that most Westerners are under the impression that Islam is inherently violent, that Jihad means physical conflict in the name of Islam, and that Islam is all the same. Yet even a shallow examination of historical and religious texts proves the opposite to be true in all three cases.

The majority of Muslims would agree that the Quran does not condone violence, but rather a strict definition of self-defense. Bruce said, “It has to be to protect a community who is being attacked because they are Muslim.”

Maxime Brissac, a 23-year-old senior at LU from France, converted to Islam at age 18 and has been studying it ever since. “It really is a faith that revolves around faith and mercy, vital elements of Islam,” Brissac said. He recommends reading a biography of Muhammad to put the Quran into context. An active member of the Muslim community at LU, the exercise science major said that he was surprised when the school installed a prayer room in the lower level of Spellmann: “It’s such a privilege, I didn’t expect it.”

Brissac said he has never encountered a bad attitude toward Muslims in the Midwest except for the occasional outburst on LU Confessions. He did say, however, that, “For me, being a non-Arab Muslim with a European background, I think it’s easier.”