On Tuesday, Mohammed Safi, the Muslim Chaplain at the University of Michigan, gave a talk titled “What is Islam?”
The talk was organized by Eastern Michigan University’s Muslim Student Association.
Safi spent the first half of the talk explaining the fundamental characteristics of Islam. He joked that he has to give such talks all the time, but has to explain all of Islam in 10 minutes.
Safi begins by relating an anecdote about the Prophet Muhammad two years before his time as prophet came to an end. Muhammad was visited by the archangel Gabriel and Muhammad related to the angel the five pillars of Islam:
• There is no lord worthy of worship except the one true God and Muhammad is his messenger
• The ritual of prayer was established
• One must fast the month of Ramadan
• One must give to charity
• One must make the pilgrimage to Mecca once in one’s life if they are physically and financially able.
“People don’t like the idea that there are rules,” said Safi.
He goes on to say that critics of Islam often say things like “Well you know what why would God create us and then tell us that we had to do x, y and z? The reality is that’s not why God created us.”
Safi said humanity has the unique ability to come to know God. If you ask Muslims what Islam is about, Safi summarizes what they will say.
“It’s about knowledge and worship of God,” Safi said.
Safi provided a rich description of his faith complete with its historical contexts. At the end of this he paused and prayed with the Muslims in the audience before fielding questions.
Dan Marlow, EMU graduate majoring in supply chain management, said the topic of Islam has always interested him.
“He was able to answer my questions accurately and informatively,” said Marlow.
Marlow fielded some difficult questions to Safi about homosexuality and its harsh punishment in Arab countries. Safi said the governments in many Arab countries are remnants of British and
French legal systems left there from imperialist times. He said the execution of homosexuals in the
Middle East is from an Islamic standpoint, wrong.
“…This may surprise you. In every legal text that you will read in Islamic law, they will talk about men, women and people who are neither,” Safi said. He did however go on to acknowledge that homosexuality as an act is forbidden in Islam and the punishment for committing that act varies.
MSA President Elaf Alchurbaji said she was impressed by Safi’s credentials and style of speaking.
“I definitely like how he spoke in modern terms to a modern audience,” Alchurbaji said.
Safi answered a question to address the discrimination Muslims face particularly in the U.S.. He talked about how the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing were not called white, they were called Muslim.
Safi went on to say Muslims are not new in the U.S. Many Africans brought to the U.S. during the slave trade were Muslim. Because no one questioned who they were. Arab-Americans thought no one questioned them either.
“They kind of thought they were white until September 11 hit and then they realized they weren’t,” Safi said.
Ahmed Abbas is a graduate student in developmental psychology and a member of MSA. Safi had visited the mosque in Canton, which Abbas attends, so he was familiar with the chaplain.
Abbas said he knew what Safi had said but had never thought about it before the presentation.
“The one thing that I kinda jumped at was the concept of having Arabs being Jewish, Muslim or Christian in faith and all calling God ‘Allah,’” Abbas said.
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