Explaining Islam

Imam comes to Chico State to try to bridge a cultural divide

Imam Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini speaks about Islam to an audience at Chico State.

Imam Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini speaks about Islam to an audience at Chico State.

Photo By Kyle Emery

The Chico State student organization the Great Prophet Mohammed Association (GPMA), which is in just its second year of existence, brought a speaker from Southern California to Chico March 13 to explain to locals “The World of Islam.”

That ambitious undertaking was tasked to Imam Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini, the co-chair of the West Coast Dialogue of Muslims & Catholics, and a senior adviser for the United Muslim American Association.

With about 100 people in attendance at the Bell Memorial Union auditorium, al-Qazwini was introduced by GPMA’s Hussain Alkhalifah, who explained that last year’s initial event, titled “Islamophobia,” went over so well they were encouraged to again introduce and explain the Islamic faith in these times of worldwide religious conflicts and misunderstandings.

The speaker began his talk with “May the peace of the Lord be upon you and with you all.” More than an hour later he ended his talk, sounding very much like a contemporary American president: “God bless you and God bless America.”

In between he spoke of the overlapping of the Islamic and Christian beliefs, including the fact that Jesus is mentioned 59 times in the Quran. However, he pointed out, Muslims do not believe Jesus is the son of God.

“There is no need for God to have a son,” he said. “We do believe in immaculate conception—it was a miracle that Mary conceived a child. But Jesus is the slave of God, just like the rest of us.”

He said Islam is a religion of peace and that Muslims were early immigrants to America and are even associated with its discovery. Muslims are law-abiding, and Osama bin Laden no more represented Islam than Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh represented the Christian faith.

The death of bin Laden was a great thing for American Muslims, he said, a step forward. But even so, Islamophobia is on the rise in America, particularly in a presidential election year.

He pointed out that there are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world today. Of those, only 18 percent are Arabs. There are 7 million to 10 million Muslims in America and about 2,200 Islamic centers and mosques. That, he added, was according to a story in the Washington Post from one week ago.

“And you have at least one mosque in this city of Chico,” he said. “It is an international, global religion; not a religion of race. All ethnicities can subscribe to this religion.”

Imam al-Qazwini was born in Karbala, Iraq, and came to America in 1994. Here he established several Islamic centers, including the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County in Costa Mesa. He is an educator, author and scholar, according to the cover of his Discovering Islam, one of the five books he offered for free Tuesday night.

At the end of the talk he fielded questions. When asked about Muslim men’s penchant for wearing beards, al-Qazwini quipped, “That is either because we are more attractive [with beards] or we just don’t have enough time to shave.”

When asked by a woman in attendance about the difference in the roles of women and men in Islam, he said they are equal, that in no way is the woman subservient to the man. But they have different jobs to do; men are the breadwinners, women the homemakers.

“There is a division of labor,” he said. “Men have more responsibilities, not more privileges. The Quran encourages women to be homemakers, more of the making of food and caretaker of the family. As long as you have kids, stay home and raise them. Your first priority is your home, your children.”

He said his wife was a teacher and when she first became pregnant she quit because she wanted to raise the kids. And she became a grandmother at age 37.

“I wanted her to come with me on this trip, but she said, ‘What about the kids’ homework?’ ”

He shrugged his shoulders.

His overall plea was summed up with, “Please do not look at what is happening in other countries to judge Islam.”