Maalik Bennett, a professor at the College Preparatory School of America in Lombard, and Syed Anwar, a psychiatrist at Elgin’s Sherman Hospital, fielded questions about their religion from roughly 30 parishioners and visitors at the First Congregational Church in Elgin.
The question-and-answer session was the fourth and final “Understanding Islam” study session put on by the church.
“What I hope to achieve today is to get you interested in studying Islam,” Bennett said.
Senior Pastor Paris Donehoo was the first to ask the question about the storied history of religion and violence, asking whether varied interpretations – or misinterpretations – of the Quran have been the root of violence, as has been the case in the Christian tradition.
“Definitely,” said Bennett, calling this his “hot-button” issue.
Bennett said one common – and potentially deadly – misunderstanding stems from the meanings of the Arabic words for blasphemer and “ignorant people.”
The Quran says to kill all blasphemers, wherever they are found.
Bennett said the Quran defines a blasphemer as someone who has taken up arms in order to eradicate Islam, adding that the holy book has very detailed laws of war and only allows killing when a war has already begun.
But Bennett said many people misinterpret that phrase to mean the killing of ignorant people, or non-Muslims.
“People can read just one statement and take a different completely meaning from it,” Anwar agreed.
Bennett and Anwar answered other questions ranging from whether the concept of heaven and hell exists in Islam – it does – and whether the Quran was written by one person or many.
Bennett said the book recounts the revelations of God written by one person, the prophet Mohammad.
The pair was also asked about the Quran’s role in political life, with particular emphasis on so-called extremist governments.
“Islam is a comprehensive way of life – a social system, a political system – at least in terms of principles,” Bennett said.
However, he said that the type of Islam practiced by some governments does not conform to his understanding of Islam.
Bennett did warn against judging certain Islamic countries – Iran in particular – too harshly, saying the United States was too quick to launch a campaign against the country.
“They need to have a more seasoned response that realizes human change or social change is gradual,” Bennett said, adding that the country still has problems although it is in the process of reforming.