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Muslim author mulls Quran's 'mixed signals'


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POSTED: Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ever since that dire day in September 2001, there have been thousands of efforts by responsible, peace-loving, sincere people who have tried to help Americans understand that what happened that day does not wholly reflect the religion professed by the murderers.

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Organizations have issued disclaimers and proclamations, institutions have scheduled classes, speakers have been booked for lectures by religious, community and business groups. Muslims in America have tried to put a face on Islam, their own face, as a parent, a student, a businessman or a blue-collar worker, a community volunteer, a responsible citizen.

It's not something people of other religious traditions feel obliged to do. An Irish Catholic doesn't have to apologize for or try to be an antidote for the IRA, Irish-style terrorist thugs who killed innocent people for years, most of whom have since cleaned up their act and became politicians. There are some Jews who will tackle the who's-killing-Palestinians issues, but no one expects it of them.

Some in the small Muslim community in Hawaii assumed the outreach role from day one. Hotel executive Hakim Ouansafi spoke to any group large or small that sought insight or a show of solidarity. Leeward Community College history professor A. Karim Khan gave “;Introduction to Islam”; courses for several semesters. The Muslim Association of Hawaii began inviting the media and the public to its holiday celebrations, and held them in public parks.

No other Muslim in town has engaged in a grassroots peacemaker role more than Saleem Ahmed, formerly an agronomist at the East-West Center. When anyone sought to convene a program with a Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim line-up, Ahmed was often there.

He became one of the pillars of the interfaith movement in Hawaii, organizing panel discussions, planning symposiums. He is a founder of the All Believers Network, whose members from an array of spiritual traditions continually explore what their faiths have in common. These folks want to convene an international interfaith conference in mid-2011 that would bring big names in the world of religion to Hawaii to talk about “;One Reality, One Humanity, Converging Paths.”;

That sounds like an inspiring theme, but will the people who need the message come to hear it? For a lot of believers the fundamental thing is the idea that you are the only chosen people of God. Sitting on a stage with those other guys would only affirm them, and they are not true believers, so no thanks.

Ahmed is on a speaking circuit to promote his second book, just published, in which he weighs the “;mixed signals”; in the Quran, Islam's sacred text. To understand the seemingly conflicting war-inciting passages loved by terrorists and the peace texts that the majority live by, he believes you have to see the whole timeline during which God was revealing his word to the Prophet Muhammad.

“;The message on spirituality remained unchanged throughout Muhammad's 23-year ministry, while on temporal matters it shifted as his status changed from fugitive seeking followers in Mecca to statesman and warrior leading a nation in Medina,”; he said. An example is a prohibition against trusting Jews and Christians, revealed around 622 A.D., compared with permission to eat with them and marry them, revealed in 632 A.D..

A challenge that Muslims face in reading the scriptures is that “;the Quran is not arranged chronologically. Both of those revelations appear in the same chapter.

“;While it appears blasphemous to even suggest that some sacred text passages might be no longer valid, we need to question guidance which deepens chasms between religions,”; said Ahmed. “;Without this outside-the-box thinking, humans will continue to be pawns in the hands of myopic and belligerent zealots who feel theirs is the only right path.”;

The tendency to seize a slice of scriptures that suits your purpose and dismiss others is a trait that some Christians have in common with some Muslims.

Ahmed will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday on “;Reinterpreting Sacred Texts to Promote Peace.”; The interfaith workshop at Unity Church of Hawaii, 3608 Diamond Head Circle, is open to the public.

Mary Adamski writes weekly about Hawaii's houses of worship. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)