Understanding Islam

Islam is a religion whose tapestry fascinates as much as it repels. It is a religion whose followers total more than 20% of the global human population on this planet. It covers a vast area through northern Africa, into the Middle East, up into Russia, the former Soviet Republics and southeast through Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia.

There is a nauseating hatred about Islam as a religion and the 1.5 billion Muslims who consider Allah to be their higher being that spews forth from some parts of the internet. It is fanned by some of the largest media establishments and personalities in the world, who use their vast resources to ensure that there shall remain a portion of the population who believe Islam wants to take over the world and that every Muslim is a potential suicide bomber.

How many people have met, or know people of the Muslim faith? Where are the people that you met from and what Islamic events did they observe?

I have met several from countries across the Islamic world. An Iranian gentleman was a tutor for one of my courses at University of Canterbury. Recently I met another Iranian born person, a lady who has set up a small business in Christchurch and is a regular commentator in The Press. At various Amnesty International meetings I have met refugees from different parts of the Middle East, most recently Syrian refugees at the New Zealand section Annual Meeting in May 2015.

Do I profess to know enough to say that they are all safe? Of course not, but no more than anyone reading this can say that they are all dangerous. Do I want to see them all vetted? Absolutely.

The world does not understand Islam nearly as well as it needs to. And that includes New Zealand where despite growing economic and political relations with countries of the Islamic faith, the Government decided that there should not be any funding for Islamic research at the University of Canterbury, on the grounds that it wanted to promote the development of science – a decision that becomes more glaring when one considers what is happening in the Middle East. This is not to say that we should pray five times a day in the direction of Mecca. This is not to say that burqa’s should be encouraged for women. When in New Zealand people should obey New Zealand customs and laws.

I can be encouraged however by the refusal of many people to buy into the anti-Islamic/anti-refugee/anti-immigrant sentiments that get stirred up by the xenophobic elements of society. The way people embraced Muslims in the street and turned out to solidarity events in the immediate wake of the Paris attacks both in January (Charlie Hebdo)and last week, gives me hope. These events need to continue and common ties established so that when the haters surface, society is ready.

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