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'Islam' means 'peace,' says head of local Islamic Society



Published: Mon, September 11, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Quran doesn't condone killing innocent people, a Muslim leader said.

By LINDA M. LINONIS

VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- "It's not something anyone will ever forget," Saeeda Yasmin Ghani said as the fifth anniversary of 9/11 is being marked. "I think it will bring back memories every year."

"That unbelievable day will stay with us," she said. "It's disheartening to Muslims that people took part in such a heinous act.

"Nowhere in the holy book, the Quran, is the use of force or killing innocent people condoned," said Ghani, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown, the governing body of the Masjid Al-Khair mosque, 1670 Homewood Ave.

"We're peace-loving people," she continued. "We don't profess to go out and make trouble, interfere or take part in destructive activities. Life is valuable, no matter what religion you are."

In fact, she emphasized, the word Islam itself means peace.

Among teachings are humility, truthfulness, kindness and compassion, she said. God is Allah, and the last prophet is Muhammad, with other prophets being Noah, Moses and Jesus. "Muhammad was chosen by Allah as the last prophet," Ghani said.

"People in the West need an understanding and respect for Islam so we would not have the misinterpretation and misguided information," she said.

What's being done

To that end, the local Muslim community has promoted interaction between itself and other religions. Ghani said that Dr. Mustansir Mir, a professor at Youngstown State University and member of the mosque, has "been pivotal in speaking to religious groups and explaining what Islam is."

Other dialogues have taken place at the Jewish Community Center, at Congregation Ohev Tzedek in Boardman and at interfaith gatherings. "We're not secluded and try to integrate and socialize with others but keep our values and customs," Ghani said.

"What people don't understand may lead to 'Islam-aphobia,'" Ghani said. "That feeling is as much a threat to democratic way of life as anti-Semitism is. Fanaticism in any religion is what is taken to the extreme.

"We can defeat those feelings by tolerance and greater understanding. What people don't understand, they often fear," she said.

When the events of Sept. 11, 2001, took place, Ghani said the local Islamic community was as horrified and upset as other Americans. Ghani and her husband, Dr. Abdul Ghani, a surgeon, have lived in the United States for 33 years. Before that, they were in England for six years. "We are Americans ... our religion is Islam," she said.

"We were as devastated as all other Americans," Ghani said. "We all felt these actions were totally unjustified."

Ghani, administrative director of Humility of Mary laboratories who is based at St. Elizabeth Health Center, was at work when the attacks occurred and people began gathering around televisions. "We were watching the TV, and it was almost incomprehensible. Then we began to understand what was happening."

The terror attack could have spawned other problems, but something else happened. Ghani said friends and co-workers expressed concern about the safety and well-being of local Muslims.

"There was concern about our welfare," Ghani recalled. "It was very reassuring," she said. "There was no backlash," she said, noting that people understood the difference between the religion and fanaticism.

What most believe

Ghani said she read a Gallup poll that noted that only 8 percent of the 1 billion Muslims worldwide felt 9/11 was justified. The "extremists and the fanatics" were reacting to American policies and activities because they felt they had been violated, she said.

Ghani pointed out Islam is practiced in a variety of countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey and the United States. "The cultures are different, but Islam is the same," she said. "The religion does help shape the culture."

Though some cultures help or hinder human rights or women's rights, Islam has a stance on rights. "Women have the same rights as men," Ghani said. "The prophet Muhammad never held back any progress. Wives work side by side with their husbands, and women have equal rights," she added.

If that weren't so, Ghani she said she would not have been urged to accept the position as president of the Islamic Society. "Many encouraged me to take the position. They realized my time involvement at the mosque," she said.

It may appear that women are not considered equal to men because in the mosque, the men and women pray separately. That arrangement is for another reason -- modesty. "It's to prevent distraction while praying. Covering over hands and hair is also for that reason," Ghani said. At the mosque, men pray on the first floor, and women in a separate area on the second floor. Because prayer involves a prostrate position and modesty rules are followed, there is separation of genders. "There's a set of prayers said five times a day ... before sunrise, in the afternoon, evening, sunset and before bedtime," Ghani explained. Worship takes place at 1:30 p.m. Fridays with a sermon and prayers.

Cultural matters

She also pointed out that cultural considerations play a role in dress. "There are women in the work force who dress according to their culture, and they're not stopped from progressing," she said. "People know that dress doesn't have anything to do with abilities."

"We're required to cover our heads all the time," Ghani said about religious guidelines. But some women don't as a matter of personal preference.

One way the mosque hopes to educate people about Islam is through an open house that's planned Saturday. Though the event is close to the beginning of Ramadan on Sept. 24, which marks a month of fasting, Ghani said Sept. 9 was too close to Sept. 11. "Out of respect, the other date was chosen," she said.

Community residents may tour the mosque and learn about ethnic foods, clothing and handicrafts. Visitors may hear about Muslim practices including Ramadan, the month of fasting that teaches discipline and respect for the less fortunate. "At the end, we thank Allah for all his blessings," Ghani said. Muslims also are required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, called Hajj, at least once. "In 1992, we did Hajj. It's a celebration thanking God," she said.

The Masjid Al-Khair mosque was organized in the 1970s, and the meeting place was a house on Homewood Avenue. Members bought property and built the mosque in 1989. There are about 300 members.




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