by Hugh Fitzgerald
“College Station’s Islamic Center hosts mosque open house,” by Rebecca Fiedler, The Eagle, November 4, 2018:
Graduate student Osama Qureshi worked with five black ink pens on Saturday afternoon, crafting ornate name signatures of Arabic calligraphy for visitors to the Islamic Center and Masjid in College Station.
“Islam is very iconoclast,” Qureshi explained as he transformed names such as “Graham” and “Samuel” into works of art, each syllable becoming a shape.
What fun to have your very own name, transformed into exotic Arabic, by a practiced calligrapher. “Yes, of course you may take it home. No, there’s no charge. We want to share with you the art of Arabic calligraphy. Just as we want to share our faith with you.” Words to that effect.
“[We] don’t like doing images of people’s faces, which is why this [mosque] is decorated very sparsely. Images are very looked down on out of fear they might lead to idolatry. So going off of that, calligraphy developed within Islam to basically glorify the word of God. There’s a [Plato] quote, ‘beauty is the splendor of truth.’ What is more truthful for a Muslim than the word of God? Now it has become the pinnacle artform of Islam.”
Osama Qureshi knows, but is not about to tell visitors, why “[we] don’t like doing images of people’s faces.” The reason why Muslims over the past 1,400 years have avoided depicting images not just of people’s faces, but of any living creatures, is that in a hadith, Muhammad reports that the angel Gabriel said he wouldn’t enter a house where there is a “dog or pictures.” “Pictures” have been taken by Muslims to mean all depictions of living creatures, whether in paintings or in statues. Thus, because of one hadith, more than 1.5 billion Muslims today continue to severely limit their means of artistic expression.
Qureshi’s calligraphy station was just one feature of the Islamic Center’s biannual Mosque Open House.
These Mosque Open House events ordinarily offer demonstration of a craft practiced by Muslims (though not only by Muslims), usually resulting in something tangible the visitors can take home. It might be a woman applying henna decorations onto the backs of female visitor’s hands, which those visitors can then proudly wear for a few days. Henna painting is not limited to Muslims, but no one need be told that. A favorite at these Mosque Open Houses is teaching girls the proper way to tie, and wear, a hijab. And some of the girls, given the hijab as a gift from the Islamic Center, will begin delightedly to wear those hijabs at home and school, in a multicultural masquerade. At the Islamic Center of Texas A&M, the main craft conveyed was calligraphy, and each student who participated came away with a card on which his or her name had been carefully written in Arabic by calligrapher Osama Qureshi.
Each public school semester, the Islamic Center hosts the event not just for Texas A&M students, but for any non-Muslims in the area to come and learn about the religion and meet the Muslims who live and worship in Brazos County.
“I would say for most part, a lot of students don’t know anything about Islam, which is surprising to me because of how prevalent it’s been in modern American culture,” said Texas A&M Muslim Students Association president Mu’ath Adlouni, also a board member at the Islamic Center. “I think a lot of people know what they hear or see on TV. Many don’t do their own research; it’s a small minority. That’s why we have initiatives to try and teach people about Islam.”
“How prevalent it’s [Islam has] been in modern American culture”? Whatever can Mu’ath Adlouni be thinking of? Less than 1% of the American population is Muslim. Muslims have had a scarcely discernible impact on American culture — on American music, art, literature, science, philosophy, political thought. The knowledge about Islam of “a lot of people” comes from “what the [Americans] hear or see on TV” — obviously, in reports about terrorism — and that is what worries Mu’ath Adlouni, the fact that Islam is “prevalent” in those news accounts. “Many [Americans] don’t do their own research.” He says, confusingly, that “it’s a small minority.” The meaning here is ambiguous. Adlouni might mean that “it’s only a small minority” of Americans who do their own research on Islam, and don’t just base their opinion of the faith on what they are shown on television, that is, Muslim terror attacks. Or he might mean that the Muslims you “hear or see on TV” — that is, terrorists, shown having killed or killing or threatening to kill — are “a small minority” of the Muslim population. Either way, he wants Americans to get beyond what they see or hear on television and learn about the real Islam. And what better way for those benighted Americans to “do their own research” than to come to a Mosque Open House, and be told the truth about Islam, by the people who know it best. That means Muslims themselves, so eager to share — no holds barred, ask-us-anything and we’ll answer! — that knowledge.
Several dozen college-aged men and women removed their shoes and entered the central prayer room of the mosque on Saturday, greeted by the aroma of hot pastries. Members of the mosque had cooked up multiple pans of a wide variety of foods from several different international cultures, spread out for the enjoyment of mosque guests. Two young women handed out shawls to any female visitors interested in trying out a hijab, answering questions about the garment. Visitors could pick up a brochure on different aspects of the religion, or even take home an English-translated Quran.
The food. At every single one of these mosque events, there’s always the savory, copious, and free food. The exotic delights of Arab and Pakistani cuisines. Visitors, first “greeted by the aroma of hot pastries,” enter a room where “a wide variety of foods from several different international cultures” have been “spread out for the enjoyment of mosque guests.” This food is not tangential, but central to these mosque presentations on Islam. A festive spread meant to create an instant warm feeling, literally and figuratively, for visitors, as they break bread with their kindly Muslim hosts, asking questions now about this strange food and now about that one, learning about spices new to them, such as zaatar, and even taking away a recipe or two, for curried chicken, manasheek, fattoush, umm ali.
Meanwhile, shawls are handed out to female visitors, who have a treat in store. For they will be taught how to tie and wear the hijab in the authentic way, from a real Muslim girl, and what’s more, they may get to keep the hijab, a gift from the mosque, and wear it whenever they feel like pretending to be Muslim. “Let me see how I look in the mirror? Wow, I could be in Baghdad, or Tehran. What fun!”
Not only do many people have much to learn about the beliefs practiced from[sic] the Quran, Adlouni said, but many also are mistaken in equating societal or cultural behaviors from Arabic nations with the religion Islam. Guest speaker Joe Bradford, an Islamic scholar based out of Houston, was brought in to explain Islamic customs and the five pillars of the faith, and to answer any questions from those in attendance. Most young visitors wanted to understand how Islam relates to Christianity, and what the Prophet Mohammed taught about Jesus and eternal salvation.
Which “societal or cultural behaviors” in Arab countries does Adlouni think should not be attributed to Islam? Could one of them be female genital mutilation (FGM), which we are often told is only a “cultural practice” having nothing to do with Islam? But this practice does indeed have something to do with Islam, as Robert Spencer has noted:
“Circumcision is obligatory (for every male and female) (by cutting off the piece of skin on the glans of the penis of the male, but circumcision of the female is by cutting out the bazr ‘clitoris’ [this is called khufaadh ‘female circumcision’]).” — ‘Umdat al-Salik e4.3
Why is it obligatory? Because Muhammad is held to have said so:
Abu al- Malih ibn Usama’s father relates that the Prophet said: ‘Circumcision is a law for men and a preservation of honour for women.’” — Ahmad Ibn Hanbal 5:75
Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to her: ‘Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.’” — Abu Dawud 41:5251
“Do not cut severely,” but not “Do not cut.”
What other Muslim practices will be attributed to “societal or cultural behaviors”? The practice of polygamy? After all, non-Muslims too have been polygamous. But as with FGM, Islam specifically recognizes and endorses the practice in a Qur’anic verse:
Quran (4:3) – “Marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or (the captives) that your right hands possess.”
Muslims frequently claim that the “misogyny” of Muslim males is a “cultural behavior” unrelated to Islam. Is this true? A Muslim man can “beat” his wife if she is disobedient, not because it is a “cultural practice,” but because Qur’an 4:34 gives him that right. A Muslim woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man not because of some “societal or cultural behavior,” but because of a line in Qur’an 2:282 which says “And bring to witness two witnesses from among your men. And if there are not two men [available], then a man and two women from those whom you accept as witnesses – so that if one of the women errs, then the other can remind her.” Furthermore, a Hadith reinforces this unequal weighing of testimony, when Muhammad says that the reason for such a rule is “the deficiency in her [woman’s] intelligence.”
Jocelyn Lopez, a Texas A&M freshman, attended the open house with her friends Abby Seifried, a recent Aggie graduate, and Laura Pepper, a junior at A&M. All three are Christians but were intrigued to learn about a faith shared by several other people in their friend groups and hometowns. None of the young women had ever stepped into a mosque before.
“There were definitely a lot of different things I didn’t know about Islam, like how Islam, Christianity and Judaism connect, how many of the prophets are shared,” Lopez said.
What did Jocelyn Lopez learn? She learned that Islam is “one of the three great monotheisms.” She learned that Islam is “one of the three great abrahamic faiths.” She undoubtedly learned that Muslims revere Mary, after whom Sura 19 in the Qur’an is named. She learned that Mary is mentioned more often in the Qur’an than in the New Testament. She learned that there were dozens of prophets who preceded Muhammad, including Adam, Moses, Noah, and many others. She was told that Jesus is “revered” by Muslims and that the Qur’an mentions him as a “prophet” dozens of times, providing accounts of his birth, miracles, and death. She may not have been told that Muslims believe Jesus died a natural death. She may have had cited to her the Qur’anic verse in which Allah proclaims: “O Jesus, indeed I will take you and raise you to Myself and purify you from those who disbelieve and make those who follow you superior to those who disbelieve until the Day of Resurrection” (Quran 3:55). This verse can easily mislead, because “those who follow you” refers only to Muslims, and “those who disbelieve” are the Christians, something Ms. Lopez is not likely to have grasped. And the words “I will take you and raise you to Myself” would seem, to a Christian like Jocelyn Lopez, to be referring to the Resurrection. One can imagine the very words of the Muslim host, designed to appeal to Christians: “Yes, we revere Mary, who has a whole chapter in the Qur’an devoted to her. And we Muslims revere Jesus even more. We believe in the virgin birth, and in Jesus as a great prophet….” The admission that for Muslims, Jesus is not the Son of God, would be passed over quickly. Nor would Ms. Lopez and her Christian friends realize that Muslims claim those who believe Jesus to be the Son of God are guilty of shirk, or polytheism.
The women agreed they feel it important for people of other religious beliefs to spend time with Muslims, educating themselves.
“I love people, and I love knowing what they believe,” Seifried said. “I believe Jesus created the whole world and its people. And I want to know what those people believe in.”
Such naivete hasn’t much of a chance against Muslims well-versed in misleading the Unbelievers. How does spending “time with Muslims” help non-Muslims to “educate themselves”? In this particular instance, there’s the calligraphy, at the mosque, and the visitor’s name in Arabic that he or she gets to keep, and the lessons in hijab etiquette, and if you’re a girl, you are given your very own hijab to wear in the mosque and that you may get to keep, and then there’s all that varied and exotic food to sample, contributing to a cozy atmosphere of fellowship and bonhomie. But how will these visitors be “educating themselves” about Islam? Their Muslim hosts will of course begin by naming, and briefly describe, s-l-o-w-l-y so that everyone can write them down, the Five Pillars of Islam, taking care to stop at each Arabic word, to spell it out and, in discussing it, contribute to the illusion that something significant has been learned. The visitors are excited to hear, and some will write down, the words and their meanings: Shehada (the Profession of Faith), Salat (Prayer, including the Five Daily Prayers), Sawm (Fasting, including Ramadan), Zakat (Charity, though the requirement that the Zakat be given only to fellow Muslims will not be mentioned), and Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca, obligatory once in a Muslim’s life, if he or she can afford it). Time for the usual questions, too. “What exactly do you give up for Ramadan?” “Why do Muslims turn toward Mecca to pray?” “What if a Muslim can’t say all of the Five Daily Prayers?” “How many days do you stay in Mecca for the Hajj”? Questions at that level, but nothing, you can be sure, about how Muslims think of, and how they treat, Unbelievers.
The Muslims at the mosque will be happy to explain all the things that Islam shares with Christianity. They will claim — either just before or just after the Five Pillars are discussed — that the root of the word “Islam” means “peace,” confident that no one will contradict them. They will explain what “sura” and “ayat” mean, and how the suras are arranged in the Qur’an. They will offer some dates for the birth, death, and major events — chiefly battles — in the life of Muhammad. Then it’s onto the Qur’an, and the two verses that are always trotted out by apologists for Islam. The first is “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256). Visitors will take this verse at face value. Why should they question it? They will not know that there is most definitely “compulsion in religion” in Islam for both Muslims and for non-Muslims. For Muslims, the compulsion is to remain in the faith: apostates from Islam can be executed. Muhammad himself said in a hadith: “Whoever changes his [Islamic] religion, kill him.” A possible death sentence for apostasy certainly constitutes “compulsion in religion.” As for non-Muslims, they have three possible options when they live under Muslim rule: death, or conversion to Islam, or the permanent status of dhimmi, which requires them to submit to a host of onerous conditions, including payment of the tax known as the Jizyah, which assures their safety from attacks by Muslims. Many people over the last 1,400 years have chosen to convert to Islam not out of conviction, but in order to escape from those harsh conditions imposed on dhimmis. That pressure to convert constitutes, again, compulsion in religion.
The second Qur’anic verse that the visitors to this Texas mosque are likely to be given is the abridged version of 5:32: “If any one slew a person… it would be as if he slew a whole people; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of a whole people…” This seems on its face to be a statement against murder. But the full version of 5:32 reveals it to be a statement about when the killing of a person is justified, and it is directed not to everyone, but only to the Children of Israel:
“On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”
In other words, far from condemning killing, 5:32 sets out the reasons that justify such killing: “for murder or for spreading mischief (fitna) in the land.” “Spreading mischief in the land” can amply accommodate whatever Muslims want it to mean; one kind of mischief is opposing the will of Allah. When 5:32 is read together with 5:33, which gruesomely describes the punishment to be meted out to those who “murder or spread mischief in the land,” that is, crucifixion and “the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides,” the meaning of 5:32 becomes clearer still.
Do you think any of the visitors to the mosque would know enough to ask about the 109 Qur’anic verses that command Muslims to engage in violent Jihad? Or enough to ask about the verses that instruct Muslims to “strike terror” in the hearts of the Infidels? And how could they possibly imagine that the Qur’an describes Unbelievers as “the most vile of creatures,” especially given the warm welcome they have received? Do you think anyone mentioned the word “dhimmi” during that open house? Don’t be silly.
So the evening will come to a close. The visitors will have learned, they allow themselves to believe, a lot about Islam. They will bring home those cards, with their names written on them in Arabic by a real calligrapher — their new friend Osama Qureshi — to put up on their walls. The girls will be proudly wearing the hijabs they’ve been given, and that they now know how to fold correctly.
And they learned so much.
All the visitors are enthusiastic about the Open House, and the wonderful food they’ve eaten, and the recipes they’ve been given, and the unfailing kindness of their hosts. And they’ve learned…Well, let’s see. The Five Pillars are Shahada, and Salat, and Zakat, and Hajj , and…what’s the fifth one? Oh yes, Sawm. That’s five. The Five Pillars. And Mecca, you turn toward Mecca to pray. It’s in Arabia. And Islam means “peace.” The Qur’an is just like our Bible. There is no compulsion in religion in Islam. You can believe what you like. No one forces you. That’s a relief. And Muslims learn that if you kill one man, it’s as if you killed the whole world. That’s what the Qur’an says. That’s good to know. And Islam is one of the three great abrahamic faiths. Jesus is a revered prophet in Islam, a close second to Muhammad. Sounds like he’s almost equal, in fact. And Mary has a whole chapter of the Qur’an devoted to her. Muslims, Christians, and Jews got along so well in the old days, especially in Spain, so why can’t they all get along again today? Nothing’s holding them back, except the tiny handful of extremists on both sides whipping up bad feelings. That’s plenty to learn in one evening. How much more can there be? They gave me a Qur’an to keep, but after tonight I’m not sure I really need to read it. I think I’ve got the basics pretty much down. Besides, I like to get my information from Muslims themselves, straight from the horse’s mouth, not from a book that I probably wouldn’t understand. If I wanted to learn about Christianity, wouldn’t I talk to Christians? Maybe I’ll dip into it next summer. Gosh, that curried lamb was good. And the baklava — out of this world! Now I have my name in Arabic calligraphy to tape to my door. My roommate told me I probably wouldn’t learn much of anything at this Mosque Open House. But he majors in Western Civ. What does he know?
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