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Area Muslims address beliefs



Published: Thu, September 20, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Muslims in the Mahoning Valley say their religion endorses peace, not war.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Osama bin Laden says he's a Muslim. But Mohamed Diafallah doesn't know any Muslims who endorse murder.

"Some of them say they're Muslims, but they have no idea what that means," said Diafallah, a Muslim originally from Yemen who now lives in Youngstown. Nick Zarbur, a Muslim from Lebanon who lives in Canfield, added, "Muslims are for peace; we're not for firing on and bombing anyone."

Bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian Muslim living in Afghanistan, has been identified as the main suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon.

Several thousand people are thought to be dead in the attacks.

Bin Laden's views: In interviews, bin Laden has said that Allah -- the Arabic word for God -- has ordered Muslims to carry out attacks against American troops and civilians.

The attacks are part of a jihad, or holy struggle, to spread the Islamic faith, bin Laden has said.

Yet many Muslims in the Mahoning Valley said they don't agree with bin Laden's interpretation of their faith.

"A jihad isn't terrorism," said Yasmin Rashid, a Muslim woman from Pakistan who lives in Liberty. Rashid, a religious education teacher at the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown on Harmon Avenue, said that a jihad has historically been a struggle against those directly responsible for oppression.

"It doesn't mean that you go out and kill innocent people," she said. "Terrorism is a totally un-Islamic act."

Dr. Mustansir Mir, director of Youngstown State University's Center of Islamic Studies, added that in Islam, "taking the life of one single innocent individual merits punishment."

Misconceptions: The definition of jihad is one of several misconceptions that Americans have about Islam, Rashid said. Some Americans also think Allah is different from the God worshipped by Christians and Jews, she said.

"The Christian God, the Jewish God and our God are the same God," Rashid said. Rashid also said that some Americans think women are considered inferior to men in Islam.

However, she said that in the Koran, a book that Muslims believe contains the word of God, "it's written very clearly that women have as many rights or more rights than men." Muslim women can rule countries, get an education and work outside of the home, she said.

"There is a special position and respect for women in Islam," added Dr. Abdul Ghani, a Muslim from Pakistan living in Liberty. Ghani, who works as a surgeon at Forum Health Northside Medical Center, said that Islam was the first religion to allow women to vote.

Rashid also noted that the dark, head-to-toe dress many Americans associate with Muslim women is not a mark of inferiority. Instead, she said the dress is a part of a tradition that started thousands of years ago, before the start of Islam.

At that time, both men and women wore long, flowing headgear in the Middle East to protect their heads from the sun, Rashid said. Ghani noted that Christian nuns and Amish people wear headcoverings today.

Some Muslim women wear the coverings out of a sense of modesty, he added.

Rashid added that the Koran does not clearly state that women must wear the coverings.

Scriptures: Muslims believe that the Koran is the last in a series of holy books given to humanity by God. The Torah and the Bible also are considered holy books and the word of God in Islam.

The Koran is considered the holiest book, as it was the last delivered to humanity. Muslims believe that the angel Gabriel delivered the Koran to Mohammed, the holiest prophet in Islam, through several revelations over 23 years beginning in A.D. 610. The revelations are said to have occurred in a cave near the Saudi city of Mecca.

Rashid described the Koran as "a book that not only describes history but also how to live everyday life." Some passages in the Koran deal with economics, she said, and others talk about marital relations.

The Koran also contains several passages about war and peace, including a passage that states, "Permission [to fight] is given to those upon whom war is made because they are oppressed." Another passage describes peace as given from a "Merciful Lord."

"Arab Muslims, they don't want [terrorism] because God told us to be peaceful, to be nice," Zarbur said.

Other beliefs: Mohammed is not the only prophet in Islam. Muslims also believe that several other prophets carried a message from God, including Abraham, Moses and Jesus Christ.

Unlike Christians, however, Muslims believe that Jesus Christ was a man and not divine.

Ghani said that about 250 families practice Islam in the Mahoning Valley. Those Muslim families are "a strong group," Rashid said.




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