April 16, 2006
Fidelma O'Leary, an Irish-born Muslim, said she never regretted abandoning her Catholic religion for Islam. I wasn't born in Islam. I chose Islam, O'Leary said.
The neuroscientist professor at St. Edward's University gave a testimonial last Friday about her life as a convert to Islam. O'Leary received disapproval from her Catholic family back in Ireland for converting, but is still confident she made the right choice.
I changed my religion. I like to think that Islam was a part of my development, she said.
O'Leary was one of four Islamic speakers last Friday for a lecture entitled "What is Wrong with Islam?" hosted by the Muslim Student Association (MSA).
I actually appreciate the fact that people came out to this event, Ziyad Effendi, MSA member said, because it shows genuine interest and learning for the authentic version of Islam. There is a need for an accurate portrayal of Islam, he said.
The other three speakers aside from O'Leary were Mufti Mohammed-Umer Esmail, an Islamic preacher; Abbas Bandali, an Islamic expert from Austin; and Sarwat Hussain, head of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) for the San Antonio chapter.
Jesus Villarreal, the event's master of ceremonies, is also a convert to Islam. He says Muslim-supported events like this are important to spread the truth of his faith.
You cannot have an explanation from an expert on Islam who is not even Muslim, Villarreal said.
Yusuf Mohammad, head of the MSA's events committee, said that Friday's lecture was prompted by the offensive cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad that were posted by Atheist Agenda.
We realized that after the Atheist Agenda posted those pictures, we were not doing enough to promote Islam on campus, Mohammad said. We thank Atheist Agenda for waking us up.
Effendi agrees that the negative cartoons were an opportunity more than a problem.
We felt that there was a need for positive dialogue, Effendi said. We have no animosity against the Atheist Agenda.
O'Leary was the subject of a documentary by National Geographic in 2003. Cameras followed her as she made her first Hajj ”the pilgrimage" all Muslims must make to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
In her speech, she described her time in the Islamic holy land and what she felt when she was on Mount Arafat, a site pilgrims visit while on Hajj. I found myself confessing to God all over again, O'Leary said, comparing it to her time confessing to the priest as a Catholic school girl.
She described her young life as a Catholic in Ireland. Growing up, she disliked the fact that she was not allowed to ask questions about God. O'Leary's mother frowned that she read the Bible on her own so much.
What God asks me to do, is actually good for me, O'Leary said, saying she feels comforted by Islam and how it has satisfied her need to connect to God.
Speaker Mufti Mohammed began his speech by saying Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Raheem (In the name of God, the Merciful, the Beneficent).
The Islamic scholar emphasized the importance of justice in Islam by quoting from the Qurân, the Islamic holy book.
In the Qurân, chapter 5, verse 8, it was revealed, all you who believe, show justice for the sake of God, Mufti Mohammed said. Fear God alone, God knows what you do.
Mufti Mohammed said Prophet Muhammad demanded that his followers uphold justice since it is one of the fine points of Islam.
He [Prophet Muhammad] severally criticizes those who oppressed those because of their ethnicities or their differences, Mufti Mohammed said.
He recited Prophet Muhammad's final message to humanity on his death bed.
An Arab is no better than a non-Arab, a white is no better than a black, a black is no better than a white except by piety in their acts, Mufti Mohammed said.
Speaker Abbas Bandali, a software engineer in Austin and a self-taught student of Islam, discussed how the three biggest religions in the world are similar.
The amazing thing is all three religions”Islam, Judaism and Christianity”find their roots in Abraham, Bandali said. All three religions are all saying the same thing.
One example is the way religions greet one another: Muslims say Salam and Jews say Shalom.
Bandali went on to say that God expects us all, regardless of religion, to coexist in the world.
If God allows it to rain in my backyard, and makes it rain in my neighbor's backyard, who I to question his place on Earth am, Bandali said.
He denounced the three biggest misconceptions of Islam: that Muslims are intolerant, Allah is a different god and all Muslims are terrorists.
When we analyze Islam, we need to analyze Islam objectively, Bandali said, calling on non-Muslims to stop categorizing Muslims into the same group, and discussing Islam's diversity.
Islam is universal and can be practiced anywhere, Bandali said.
Sarwat Hussain, leader of the San Antonio chapter of CAIR, called herself a born again Muslim and was proud to wrap her head in the traditional Islamic woman's headscarf known as the hijab.
The Islamic women are the most misunderstood women in the world, Hussain said.
Hussain lectured mostly on women within Islam and her time as a Muslim woman in the United States. She felt privileged to be a part of a religion that gave so many rights to its women. The fight for feminism in the West has been done already for Muslim women in Islam, Hussain said. She discussed how women were oppressed throughout history all across the world, from the lack of property rights in Greece to American women receiving their right to vote only within the last 100 years. All those rights were given to women 1,400 years ago [in Islam], Hussain said.
Hussain also praised the institution of marriage as a vital part of Islam and the rest of society. In Islam, men and women, husband and wife, complement each other, she said.
As the leader of CAIR in San Antonio, Hussain volunteers to stand up against injustices locally, just so a Muslim voice has a say in the matter. CAIR provides legal assistance to Muslims who are discriminated against. Hussain says this assistance is also available for non-Muslims who feel their rights as citizens are being undermined.
Ziyad Effendi was pleased with the response to the MSA's lecture last Friday. He does not want the education to stop at one lecture though.
To the general public, Effendi said; don't be afraid to ask questions to Muslims.
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