Three theologians fought misconceptions about Islam in the wake of recent terrorist attacks and advocated for interfaith fellowship during a presentation Sunday at Tulsa Community College’s Southeast campus.
The two-hour talk, titled “Should We Fear Islam?” included discussion of propaganda, ways in which religion — including Christianity — has been manipulated for political causes and a crash course in the basic tenets of Islam.
About 600 people attended the presentation in the college’s VanTrease Performing Arts Center for Education and included discussion from Rabbi Charles Sherman, religion professor Charles Kimball and Imam John Ederer.
All agreed the answer to the question of “Should We Fear Islam?” was no.
The event came in the wake of deadly terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut, Lebanon, that killed scores of people and have been linked back to the extremist group ISIS, as well as protests against Muslims in Tulsa’s Veteran’s Day parade.
Earlier Sunday, Ederer joined the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar at All Souls Unitarian’s non-traditional Sunday service for “Standing with Paris: A Response to Terrorism.”
Throughout the service, Lavanhar and Ederer discussed the need for reaching out to other communities and learning to understand them as a way to move forward from the attacks.
Lavanhar said extremism — not religion — was the issue during the attacks. The church service’s sentiments were echoed at the night’s event.
Sherman began the night’s event with a similar solution: Transform fear of Islam into familiarity through community outreach and by building interfaith relationships.
“We have to come to know each other better,” Sherman said.
Sherman said one generally fears what’s unknown to them. In the case of Islam, the issue is compounded by people’s inaccurate perception of the religion, especially when some people’s only exposure to Islam is through propaganda, some of which is fueled by mainstream media, he said.
The onslaught of propaganda engenders marginalization of the groups being propagandized against, which evolves into profiling and finally dehumanization, Sherman said.
Sherman cited an anti-Muslim protest sign at Tulsa’s Veteran’s Day parade that said “Every real Muslim is a Jihadist” as evidence of Muslims being profiled and marginalized.
“Terrorism has no religion,” Sherman said.
Ederer specifically called out mainstream media outlets for their role in spreading propaganda and misinformation about Islam, saying oftentimes the media spends a small amount of time speaking with Muslims who condemn terrorism or speak with extremists who aren’t representative of the majority of Muslims.
Kimball noted that, throughout history, religion has been used for noble and nefarious causes, and one ought not judge the majority of followers by the actions of extremists.
Just as one wouldn’t contend that Christian values are reflected in the KKK or Westboro Baptist Church, one shouldn’t say ISIS or Al Qaeda is reflective of Islam, Kimball said.
Toward the end of the event, Ederer explained the foundations of Islam and discussed how his religion was not in opposition to American life, saying he is both a “devout, fundamentalist jihadist Muslim” as well as a “progressive, pragmatic, patriotic American humanist.”
Among the tenants of Islam, Ederer said, Muslims believe in God and believe God has angels. Muslims also believe in human accountability for actions and spreading mercy and compassion, Ederer said.
Asking the audience a series of hypothetical questions, such as how they would react if someone were being rude to them or if they condoned adultery or the need for a military and police force, Ederer illustrated the concept of jihad.
After having audience members raise their hands if they agreed with the scenario’s conclusion, Ederer determined most people in the audience concurred with the concepts of jihad, a term shrouded in negative connotations.
Essentially, Ederer said, jihad is learning how to overcome struggles with your inner demons and perform moral actions, understanding society’s need for a police force to keep peace and protect citizens and understanding the need for a military to protect land from invaders or oppressors.
“It is not jihad to kill innocent people,” Ederer said.
The event ended with a question-and-answer session, during which the speakers took turns answering questions from the audience. The questions ranged from how non-Muslims can fight anti-Islam sentiment, to the difference between Judaism and Islam.
Ederer said he would like to hold future events about Islam and address more questions people have about the religion, such as the role of women or Sharia Law.