He stood only about 5'5" and was of an average build. His face, while I could tell he was older still looked youthful and full of life.
"I am Salim, pleased to meet you."
Returning his greeting I awaited his initiative for salutatory actions. Without offering his hand, he led me down the hallway and into a small library where he told me to look at any literature I pleased until he returned. After leafing through several Qur'ans of different translations, Salim returned and showed me into the prayer room of the mosque. He turned a chair to face mine and sat when I was seated. Our question and answer session was about to begin.
Salim is an administrator in a mosque and I had scheduled this appointment to meet with him several days prior. This meeting is a requirement for my online course, Encountering the World of Islam. The purpose of the assignment is to listen and learn about Islam from a Muslim, so that we might be able to initiate and cultivate long lasting relationships with other Muslims. In the last 3 weeks, I have been learning about Islam through this online course. Through textbook reading, online reading, lectures, and forum discussions, my knowledge of Islam has grown greatly. Even more than that though, my understanding of Islam has changed. Many of my presuppositions have been challenged. However, all of the information I have been taking in has not left me without questions.
Islam is a complex religion with many similar foundations to Christianity and Judaism. Salim was more than happy to meet with me. His confidence in his knowledge of his religion was both challenging and encouraging. I did not doubt that he would be able to help increase my knowledge and understanding of Islam.
During the one hour we talked, I learned a great deal about Islam. More specifically, I learned about the Ahmadiyya sect and how their belief system is a variation of “traditional Islam”. The Ahmadiyya sect is a reformed subgroup of Islam. Several things that Salim shared with me did surprise me. (The answers below are not word for word)
Q: Many people, especially today and in most Western societies, believe that most if not all Muslims are terrorists. Can you tell me more about this?
A: We are the victims of media's ideologies about Islam. But if you think about it, violence toward women and children is in greater number than in Islamic areas/groups. The Qur'an states that the only time violence is permitted, is when I am physically attacked and my life is in jeopardy (self-defense). Chapter 5, verse 32 of the Qur'an shows the Muslim perspective of just how precious and valuable human life is.
An overwhelming majority of those committing acts of violence and terrorism, are of Palestinian descent. This can be attributed to the fact that these Muslims do not have a homeland. The conflicts in Palestine have displaced these peoples and they are being told that suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism are justified because others are attacking them.
But Muhammad commanded that the only “jihad” (struggle) that take place is that of a personal nature – a struggle of how an individual can better himself and the world around him, peacefully.
Q: What is it like to be Muslim in America? Is it difficult?
A: “Living in America is a blessing.” In Pakistan (where Salim is from) our particular sect of Islam (the Ahmadiyya) is recognized as non-Muslim. We would not be able to freely practice our Muslim beliefs in Pakistan for that reason but here in America we can.
Q: Many people believe all Muslim men are abusive and disrespectful toward women, namely their wives. What can you tell me about this?
A: The Arabic has escaped me at the moment but the English means the husband is to be a garment for the wife and the wife is to be a garment for the husband. What do garments do? Cover. If one spouse has a shortcoming the other spouse is to act as a covering for it (in an honor-shame culture, weakness and shortcomings are not to be shown). This is respectful and loving. Issues with or between spouses are to be private, dealt with among family honorably. Muhammad had wives and never once do we read or see of a time when he abused them. Neither did the 4 succeeding leaders after Muhammad.
In Islam, physical touch and even relationships among the opposite sex are very strict, this is even one reason why I did not shake your hand when we met. It is about our intentions, what I do shows that I intended to do that; if I hit you, I intended to hit you. My actions show my heart.
Q: What do you believe about Jesus?
A: We actually believe something different than other sects of Islam concerning the prophet, Jesus (differences in italics).
- He was born of a virgin
- The Spirit of God was upon him
- He was a prophet and performed duties given to him by Allah
- He only ministered to Israelite tribes – he was to gather and preach to them
- He was put on the cross but did not die on it
- After he recovered from his time on the cross, he and his mother fled the public because he knew if anyone saw him they would try and kill him
- He died in Kashmir, India
- There is a second coming but it will not be the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, rather it will be a “second Jesus” (the reasons behind this belief were based deeply in human logical and understanding)
Salim was very helpful and friendly. Not once did either of us find the need to argue or degrade the other. Our time together was of mutual respect and it was, I believe, encouraging to both of us. My second meeting for my next assignment is scheduled to be with a woman (perhaps the lady Salim introduced me to on Sunday, Ayesha). During that meeting I hope to build another relationship while learning more about Islam from the perspective of a female Muslim.
Thanks for taking time to read!