On Wednesday, February 18, Pacifica Institute hosted Newport Mesa Irvine Interfaith Council’s discussion, “Interfaith 101: Who is a Muslim? What is Islam?” The event featured panelists Lobna Mulla, an Islamic scholar and public speaker with the Islamic Center of Orange County; Imam Sayed Mostafa Al Qazwini, an imam and Islamic scholar with the Islamic Education Center of Orange County; Ayshegul Ashki, a Sufi public leader and President of the Central Orange County Interfaith Council; and Mirkena Ozer, a freelance writer with Pacifica Institute.
After sharing a meal, our panelists discussed what being a Muslim meant to them. Ms. Ashki commented that Sufis see Islam as a universal, all-encompassing faith, in which there are no other religions. We all feel the call to create, love, and be loved. Imam Al Qazwini stated that Islam is a friendship with God, who is transcendent and yet eminent. Ms. Ozer added that a Muslim is someone from whose hand others are safe, someone who aspires to become a mirror of the attributes of God.
The discussion turned to the Qur‘an, the need for supplemental information when studying it, and advice in approaching it. Ms. Ozer, who came to Islam as a convert, said that the most important thing to have when approaching the Qur‘an is an open heart and an open mind. The opening lines are an invitation to feel safe among its pages. Imam Al Qazwini noted the importance of exegesis and sources from the experts. Ms. Mulla stressed the importance of understanding its cultural and historical context.
The panelists then discussed the requirement of wearing the hijab (headscarf), and why some women wear it and others do not. Ms. Mulla said that though it has come to be associated with oppression in the media, that is not the case. In fact it is the exact opposite, a sign of true liberation, in which women are judged for their thoughts and actions rather than their appearance. Imam Al Qazwini added that it is for the dignity and value of women, to assist in looking beyond the flesh and blood. Ms. Ozer stated that modesty first begins in the heart, and that though the hijab is mandatory, ultimately it is the woman’s choice. A woman should neither be forced to wear it nor refused the right to wear it.
The discussion came to a close with the topics of the differences between Sunni and Shi’a Islam, and the major Islamic holidays. Imam Al Qazwini noted that Sunni and Shi’a Islam are ninety-nine percent the same, with the most notable distinction being seen in leadership after the Prophet. He stressed that the distinctions are little and there are many interfaith marriages between the two sects. Ms. Mulla further emphasized that the differences are miniscule, and have largely become political. Aside from the major holidays of Ramadan and Eid al-Adha, Imam Al Qazwini noted the significance of the Day of Ashura, which reminds us to be free, to defend the oppressed, and fight terrorism.
Pacifica Institute thanks Newport Mesa Irvine Interfaith Council, the panelists, and all of our guests for attending. It was a truly educational and inspirational event!