There are several misunderstandings about Islam, Rana H. Mahmood, M.D., told students at an all-school meeting at Culver Academies. And there are more similarities than differences between Islam and Christianity.
Mahmood, who is a neurologist, is also the president of the Administration of the Greater Decatur (Ill.) Islamic Center. His family’s visit to Culver was sponsored by the Global Studies Institute, the Spiritual Life Department, and the Diversity Council.
Mahmood spoke to all the students during the Wednesday all-school meeting. Mahmood, his wife Farah, and son Daanish then conducted a question-and-answer session that evening for more than 50 interested students, faculty, and staff. They also met with several students during a luncheon prior to the all-school session.
The visit follows Culver’s mission of giving students opportunities to challenge their own perceptions; learn more about other’s perspectives; and appreciate their cultures, religions, and traditions.
The Islamic religion has been in existence for nearly 1,400 years, Mahmood explained. Approximately one billion people, or 20 percent of the world’s population, consider themselves Muslims. They come from all races, nationalities, and cultures. Twenty percent are Arab and 80 percent are non-Arabic. There are between six and seven million Muslims in the United States.
The extremist groups that are in the news make up less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the Muslim population, he said.
Many of the fundamentals of the Islamic religion are very similar to Christianity, he explained. Muslims believe in one God (Allah), angels, a day of judgement, and everyone is accountable for their actions. Muslims also believe in prophets – especially Muhammad.
One misconception is that Muslims worship Muhammad, Mahmood said. And, while Muslims believe Muhammad to be the last messenger of God, he is still considered only a prophet. Even though Muhammad could not read or write, Muslims believe that Allah verbally revealed the Quran to him through the angel Gabriel. Scribes wrote down his teachings through the years, using a variety of methods, even writing them down on tree bark. These writing make up the bulk of the Quran.
The Quran is considered sacred, Mahmood explained. “The word cannot be changed.” It is written in Arabic and all the readings and prayers are recited in Arabic “to preserve the dignity of the Quran.” He added that to be a “good judge” of the Quran, a person needs to read all 30 chapters, not just take a word or phrase out of context.
The goal of every Muslim is to be a living example of the Quran, he said. And that, simply, is accomplished by working every day to become “a better human being.”