Those who did not come equipped with an open mind likely left with one.
This was the hope on March 5, where, during an open house, attendees were guided through the principles of Islamic faith — gender equality, for instance, and the importance of education — ideals that have often been twisted to meet political agendas of one kind or another, an imam said.
It was during the event, hosted at the Whitehorse library, that the veil of misconception was lifted, where Tariq Azeem attempted to dispel myths and prejudices that have grown — cushioned by the mass media — with the rise of extremist views held by groups like ISIS.
“There are a lot of misconceptions regarding our faith, and those misconceptions lead to fear, and eventually the fear leads to hatred, or widening of the gaps in our society,” he told the News, “so when we learn about each other, we grow in respect and tolerance, and we feel that we were able to achieve that through today’s program.
“This was the aim,” he continued, “that we should talk about these things, and everyone should know the Islam is a religion of peace and love. Its basic message is love for all, hatred for none.”
The concept of jihad was addressed, which has been co-opted by groups in the Middle East and turned into a “violent ideology,” said Azeem, who lives in Vancouver and is part of the Ahmadiyya community.
“When we look at the actual teachings of jihad and the Qur’an, this is such a beautiful concept, which tells us that we should try to become a better human being” by adhering to the underlying principles of the Islamic faith, which has nothing to do with spreading terror.
Throughout the crash course, he read verses from the Qur’an, including a list prophecies from the Prophet Muhammad, one of which says “And when the she-camels 10-months pregnant are abandoned.”
This, Azeem explained, predicted the rise of technology and modes of transportation that would replace getting around on the true-and-tried animal.
While prophecies like these helped solidify people’s faith, values that have been passed down through the ages have done the same, he said, gender being one of them.
“Islam teaches absolute equality between genders,” Azeem said. “They’re both equal in the sight of God. Our understanding is that if God is not discriminating between genders, then what allows me or anyone else to discriminate?”
During the presentation, Azeem said that men and women have been assigned different roles — birth, for instance — but that doesn’t mean discrimination between genders is condoned.
“Islam promotes absolute equality,” he said.
Education was another point. Extremist groups have often been reported as clamping down on learning, particularly when taken up by women. This, too, couldn’t be further from the teachings of Islam, Azeem said.
“Islam puts so much emphasis on education that it is incumbent, it is necessary for all Muslims to seek education in whichever way possible,” he said, noting that Muhammad once said that if people need to travel to China to do so then they should.
There were about a dozen people in attendance. Sami Kadri was one of them. He moved from Calgary two months ago after securing a job in Whitehorse. The recently opened mosque, he said, has acted as a beacon for him, connecting him to other members of the Muslim community. It was his first stop when arriving in the city, he said, adding that he never anticipated he would live and work in the Yukon.
“I was amazed that there was a mosque here, there is a community of Muslims here.”
The open house, he continued, is ancillary, because people who aren’t Muslim are welcomed in to learn about Islam, creating a more tolerant, respectful community at large.
“If I put myself in other people’s shoes, I think the summary that was given was very helpful, was straight to the point about clarifying the misconceptions. Doing this, reaching out to the community, is very good,” he said.
Non-Muslims would be amazed at how powerful Islamic teachings are, Azeem, the imam, said, and all it takes is a little curiosity.
“If we learn about any new faith, it makes us realize that everyone, all of us, are the same. We all desire peace, harmonious life, wherever we are.”
Contact Julien Gignac at firstname.lastname@example.org