By Annie Martin, The Daily Northwestern

American culture's recent focus on terrorism and the treatment of women in several Muslim-dominated countries has caused many Americans to misperceive Islam as oppressive and violent, said Sabeel Ahmed, a representative from a Muslim organization in Chicago.

Instead, people should look to Islam's "constitution," the Quran, he said.

"Islam should not be judged by the actions of Muslims just as Christianity should not be judged by the actions of Christians and Judaism should not be judged by the actions of Jews," Ahmed said. "Islam should be judged by the Quran and the example of the prophet Muhammad."

Ahmed, of the organization WhyIslam, presented the basic principles of Islam to a group of about 50 at the Levy Senior Center, 300 Dodge Ave., on Sunday. According to Ahmed, the Quran is "a comprehensive guide to all (parts) of life" that bears such significance to Muslims that between 8 million and 10 million have memorized it verbatim. Muslims are expected to recite passages of the Quran from memory during each of their five daily prayers.
"No other religious book has been memorized like the Quran," he said.

According to the Quran, war is only permitted when justified, Ahmed said. Even then, the Quran discourages the use of violence.

"Killing an innocent human being is like killing all of humanity," he said.

Chicago resident Mary Ali, a Muslim, said many do not realize that
Muslims around the world condemn terrorist acts such as Sept. 11, 2001.

"Muslims speak out against terrorism, but we're not always heard," Ali
said. "Muslims do not have the media. The media, in many cases, works
against us."

Another common misconception about Islam, Ahmed said, is that it
considers women inferior to men. In reality, he said, Islam mandates
equal treatment between the sexes and expects both men and women to be
educated. In addition, he said, women constitute about three of every
four converts to Islam. About 8 million Muslims currently live in North
America, Ahmed said.

"Islam is the fastest growing faith in many parts of the world, including the U.S.," Ahmed said.

Although Islam is often associated with Arabs, Ahmed said, only about
18 percent of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims are Arabs. In addition,
Muslims comprise more than 50 percent of the population in 57 countries.

"Islam is not restricted to one nation," Ahmed said. "It is universal.
There is not one country in the world where you could not find a

Ted Loda, co-chairman of the Citizens Think Tank, which sponsored the
event, said he sees a need to inform people about the religion.

"This is a topic for which there is a great deal of opinion," Loda
said. "But we need to have more education so our opinions are educated."

Reach Annie Martin at

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