Scholar speaks on Islam

World-renowned African scholar and Islamic expert Mualimu Ali Mazrui joined professors, deans and students to break the traditional fast for the Muslim month of Ramadan in the Kay Spiritual Life Center yesterday before his lecture on Islam and the West.

"We find ourselves faced with two fronts," said international relations professor Abdul Karim Bangura, researcher-in-residence at the AU Center for Global Peace. "Those who prefer to kill in the name of Islam and those who use Islam as a means for discrimination."

The event, part of the Islamic Lecture Series sponsored by the Muslim Student Association, celebrates the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is a time Muslims are encouraged to think about the less privileged in society through fasting and prayer, practiced control of emotions and respect for Muslims and non-Muslims.

The objective of the series is to bring a greater understanding of Islam.

"Islam is not a religion of compulsion," Mazrui said. "Jews, Muslims and Christians are all people of the Book."

Mazrui is the director of the Institute of Global Culture Studies at Binghamton State University of New York. He also works at universities in Kenya and Nigeria and has been involved in a number of U.N. projects on matters that have ranged from human rights to nuclear proliferation. Bangura described Mazrui as the premier authority on Africa, which contains more than 317 million Muslims, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Mazrui pointed out different forms of terrorism from religious to ethnic to nationalistic, using the Ku Klux Klan and Serbians in Chechnya as examples.

Playing a role in terrorism, the United States tends to prefer soft targets in war, often killing innocent women and children, Mazrui said. The U.S. should monitor its military, he said.

Mazrui was born in Kenya and has had a noted career as a professor, author and filmmaker.

"Specific religions should not be demonized; such grounds breed hatred, violence, war and misunderstanding in society," said Sahardid ( Zack) Kassim, president of the Society for Peace and Conflict Resolution. "The most important thing about facing the war on terror is to remember that many individuals and states have used terrorism in the past. We must learn from the past in order to have a vision for coexistence in the future."

In a private interview, Mazrui commented on Kenya's view of the U.S. "war on terrorism."

"We are being caught in the crossfire and this is not our battle," he said. "Kenyan lives are lost in greater numbers than lives of adversaries."

In August 1998, U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed and more than 250 people were killed, including 12 Americans.

Mazrui also said that both Indonesia and Pakistan have women in higher positions than the United States and Britain. The president of Indonesia is Megawati Soekamoputri and the prime minister of Pakistan is Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, both women.

A member of the audience challenged this statement commenting that the example of women political leaders as tolerant indicators of openness is not valid.

Mazrui agreed and said the five pillars should be reexamined if the issues of gender inequality cannot be understood through them.

Palestinians in Israel to Hindus in India, as well as within Muslim societies feel they are under siege, said Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at AU.

Heightened understanding of Islam as a religion of compassion and justice between tribes and civilization must occur in order for the feeling of siege to lessen, Ahmed said.

"The real contribution of Mazrui is his role of guru and teacher. A man that can explain Islam to the West and the West to Islam is crucial," Ahmed said.

"It is terrific when students take the initiative to plan events like this," said Louis Goodman, dean of the School of International Service. "The objective of SIS is to educate students about Islam to better serve them in their future careers"

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