In Dawson, Minn. there are only five people who are of the Muslim faith.
In an effort to educate the community, and to bring people of different faith together, Lutheran Intern Pastor Mandy France asked Ayaz Virji and his family to speak to the community about the Islam faith.
The full story can be read here.
Virji answered more questions than were asked at the meeting. The answers are below.
In countries where Islam is the dominant religion is it considered to be 1) a "state" religion and 2) the "one true" religion?
Virji: Very good question, which deserves a long answer! The Quran says in 2:62 "Surely those who believe, including the Christians, Jews, and Sabians (other theists), and who lead a righteous life, will receive their reward from God. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve." It goes on to say later in the chapter, (2:256) "There is no compulsion in religion." During the time of Mohammad, Christians, Jews, atheists and pagans lived together without religious persecution. Mohammad was head of state and himself did not tolerate any hate speech or hate crimes during his leadership. Even when the Muslims reconquered Mecca (took back what was stolen from them) they did so without one drop of blood. They came in the city with grace and told all the people they were safe, even the non-Muslims.
Islam does regard itself as a theocracy (combination of Church in state). This is a difference in Islam and Christianity. Jesus said "Give unto Cesar what is Cesar's and unto God what is God's," which is generally accepted as condoning a secular government. A true Islamic government should strive to achieve the same standards as the government during Mohammad's time. Mohammad condemned monarchy or dictatorship-style government. Isn't it weird how most "Islamic" countries are monarchies (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of Jordon, Kingdom of Qatar, Kingdom of the UAE) which is contrary to Islam's teaching? The exception is, of course, Iran, which is a republic. Did you know that the Iran Constitution states that "the investigation of individuals' beliefs is forbidden" and that "no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief." Also, there are seats in the Iranian parliament specifically reserved for religious minorities, mostly Christians and Jews, and Iran's parliament is composed of 6 percent women. Certainly not enough in my opinion but an interesting fact none-the-less. Currently there are 400,000 Christians (300 churches) and about 10,000 Jews living peacefully in Iran. I wonder why the media does not tell you this.
Finally, I do not know of any religion that does not regard itself as the "true religion of God." I think Christianity believes that about itself, Hinudism believes that about itself, Judaism believe that about itself. Islam, like many other religions however, clearly accepts other faiths as containing universal truth and a pathway to God. One Muslim saint said, "There are as many paths to God as there are human breaths." Islam believes strongly that salvation is in the hands of each individual of God's creation, no matter their professed faith.
Do the majority of Muslims respect/tolerate other religions?
Virji: By far, yes! If they don't then they are not practicing Islam. Groups like ISIS and Al-Quaeda are NOT practicing Islam!
If someone kills in the name of Muhammad, are they rewarded in death with virgins?
Virji: No. They are punished with Hell. Islam forbids killing in all circumstances except in a defensive war. Even in a defensive war the Quran specifically states, "You may not kill women, children or the elderly. You may only fight those who are directly fighting you. And if they stop, you stop. For God does not love the starters of wars." Unfortunately, ISIS and Al Queda terrorists do not uphold shariah. They make up their own, narrow, violent brand of it which should not be confused with true Islam.
Is it difficult to practice your faith in a small community where you are the only Muslim family?
Virji: Not in Dawson, where the people are so kind and sincere! We feel very much at home here. True faith is not in words or rituals, but in the heart of people. Dawson residents are the best!
Please explain how Sharia law does not oppress women.
Virji: Islamic Shariah was the first legal system to formally give women the right to vote, the right to own property and the right to divorce their husband. It did so in the 7th century AD. As a comparison, women in the U.S. didn't get the right to vote until early 1900's after a long suffrage movement. In addition, Prophet Mohammed said, "A man should respect in all women the womb that bore him." The Quran constantly refers to women as men's equals in this world. What you see with some of the suppression of women's rights in the Middle East is more their tribalism roots, not Islam. Remember, many of these countries are still very poor and uneducated, for example, the average adult male educated in Iraq is only 5th grade level.
Why do so many Muslim refugees come to Minnesota?
Virji: Minnesota is one of the greatest and most generous states in the U.S. In past years, our governor and state representatives identified the cruelty and oppression experienced by Somalis in their home country. So, they opened their door to these refugees because it was the right thing to do. As Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth." It is the job of all those who have means to help those who are suffering. Unfortunately, this type of oppression against African people by their own governments still exist, whether it be in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya or other African countries.
We have the 10 commandments to live by. What laws do you have to live by?
Virji: The 10 commandments are our laws too. The Bible is one of our holy books. In fact, the "lesser laws" in Shariah are meant to inspire and prevent such cardinal sins like adultery, stealing, killing, and lying. For example, alcohol is forbidden for Muslims because it may compromise one's judgement and it's a lot easier to commit one of those acts while intoxicated vs. while not. We also have laws on education. The Quran says, "It is mandatory for every male and female Muslim to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave." The acquisition of knowledge and the act of pondering are among the highest acts a Muslim can do.
Why is Jesus only crucified as a prophet and not the Son of God?
Virji: Muslims regard Jesus as the "Word of God" and the "Spirit of God," but not the Son of God. Muslims also call him the Messiah, the anointed one. However, Muslims do not believe that he was crucified. Muslims also do not believe that God is in human form and therefore would not have children like humans do. When Muslims read the Bible, we read about how David, Elijah, and other prophets were regarded also as "sons of God." Also, in Matthew 23:9 Jesus tells the crowds "Don't call anyone on Earth your father. All of you have the same Father in Heaven." In that sense, we believe this type of language is allegorical and not literal.
Do you have arranged marriages?
Virji: Muslims in America meet their future spouses like many others: in school, at social functions, family gatherings, etc. But we do not drink so we do not usually meet at bars or at parties. Sometimes, families will "arrange" for a young couple to meet at a gathering or someone's house to see if they will like each other. That is common. If the couple likes each other then they take it from there, meeting on their own and phone calls, etc. Then marriage, if all works out. That is how Musarrat and I did it! My aunt arranged Musarrat and I to meet at her house one day, and the rest is history! Strict arranged marriages where couples do not meet each other until their wedding day only happen in poor countries and usually in the villages like in India (practiced by Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims alike) due to tribal culture and tradition, not religion.
Do Muslims believe in birth control?
Virji: Yes. In fact, in Iran married couples are given free birth control.Muslims are strict in their belief in no pre-marital sex, and also no abortion (unless the female is raped or life is at risk – ectopic pregnancy, etc).
Why are terrorist attacks always from Muslims?
Virji: According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 94 percent of terrorist attacks performed in the U.S. from 1980 and 2005 have been from non-Muslims. For the official government report, click here. A better question would be, why are violent crimes committed by Muslims always referred to as terrorism in the media, while violent crimes by non-Muslims are not.
Are Muslim women allowed to speak to other men if their husband isn't present?
Virji: Of course!!
If covering your head is a choice, why do it?
Virji: Yes, it is a choice. Have you ever seen a picture of Mary Mother of Jesus without her head covered? I wonder how she would have answered that question, or how she would dress if she lived today?? Coptic Christians cover their hair, as do Mennonites and Catholic nuns. In Corinthians, Paul emphasizes that women should cover their hair. For the Muslim woman, the hijab (head scarf) is a symbol of piety and modesty. Of course, just because someone does not wear hijab does not mean that they are not pious or modest. Many Christians have cross necklaces to express their faith; but just because you don't wear a cross necklace does not mean you don't love God. It's kind of like that, a type of expression.
Did Muhammad have multiple wives?
Virji: Yes he did. According to the Bible, Prophet Abraham had two wives, David had four wives, Jacob had four wives and Solomon had 400 wives and 600 concubines. Polygamy is allowed in Judaism, Christianity and Islam in certain circumstances. Remember though, in Islam marriage is a contract, not a covenant, albeit the most important contract of one's life. The Quran highly stresses the importance of a man to have only one wife, outside of some very narrow exceptions.
If a Muslim woman is raped, does she need men to be her witnesses?
Virji: No. The perpetrator would be deemed innocent until proven guilty. Witnesses could be male or female or strong circumstantial, no different than in a U.S. Court. If the man is found guilty after due process, then he would be executed. That is the punishment of rape in Islam.
Do Muslims date?
Virji: Yes, but in a different way. One of Islam's goals is to prevent pre-marital sex and therefore unwanted babies, STD's and other problems like that (no different than Christianity). For Muslims, dating means getting to know one another intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, but not physically until marriage. A young Muslim couple may go on a date for dinner, movie, football game or other public place. They would talk about things like what each of them wanted in a partner, how religious they were, what are your goals in life, etc. But there would be no kissing, hugging or hand holding. The physical part of the relationship would happen after both were mature enough and committed enough to marriage. Then after that they may enjoy each other physically, too.
Do your kids pray during school?
Virji: I wish! It's hard enough to get them to pray at home. But seriously, prayer is much more than a ritual practice to the Muslim. An individual's personal connection to God is far more valuable and ritual prayer is a means to help that along (again, no different than Christianity). Prophet Mohammed said, "An hour of reflection is worth more than a 1,000 years of (ritual) prayer."
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