"First Person Singular" is an occasional column by JP Marat that empowers artists, musicians and community activists to speak in their own voice. Sincere thanks to The Columbus Free Press for the opportunity to let our voices be heard . . .

My First Encounter with “Ask A Muslim”

I’ve seen the gentle people from “Ask A Muslim” on the streets of Columbus, Ohio for some time. My first conversation with them was in August of 2014 while attending a Palestinian Support Rally at the Statehouse. They had a booth on High and Broad and were engaging passersby with discussions on fundamental philosophical issues. “What is the purpose of life?” “Why are we on the earth?” “Is there a God . . . ?”
  At that time, Israel was in the midst of its assault on the neighborhoods of Gaza. Over 1,200 Palestine civilians had been killed by the Israeli Defense Force, with much of the ordinance provided by U.S. taxpayers. We discussed the Middle East. I was confounded by their calm confidence. “Is it possible that Jews, Muslims and Christians can live in peace ?” I asked. “Yes, Yes Yes,” Omar replied. “It is possible . . . in this country . . . and everywhere in the world . . . ”

Islam In America

  Islam is often portrayed as a recent import to this country. In actual fact, the presence of Islam in America predates the arrival of most of its European citizens. As early as 1528, an enslaved Moroccan Muslim by the name of Estevanico is known to have been shipwrecked and saved off the coast of Texas. Estevanico is said to have traveled throughout what is now known as the US Southwest. From the early 1700’s through the mid 19th century, 15-30 percent of the enslaved Africans brought into this country are believed to have been followers of Islam. In the 20th century the influence of Islam is seen in the rise of the African American community in the forms of the Moorish Science Temple, the Nation of Islam and eventually, under the leadership of Warith Deen Mohammed (the son of Elijah Mohammad), the evolution of the World Community of Al-Islam into the American Society of Muslims. Vibrant Mosques populate this nation from New York City to Los Angeles and most major population centers in between.

Islam in Columbus

  Muslims are a vibrant part of Columbus community life. There are several Mosques in our city. The Islamic population is considerably more diverse than other faiths . . . and most progressive gatherings I attend. On any given night, Columbus Mosques, are filled with “native born” Americans, Arabs, East Asians, Africans and believers from every race and nationality. I’ve had the pleasure of being invited to break the fast of Ramadan at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin. Prayer, from those of all faiths (and those of no particular faith), was followed by scrumptious food and sincere fellowship.
  I’m not a Muslim. Like most of you, I’m spiritual, in my own way but not particularly observant. My primary allegiance is to social justice. That being said, Islam intrigues me. After meeting Kenny Tour from “Ask A Muslim” at a local coffee shop, I asked him to tell me a bit more . . . As you read his article below I ask you to consider that his words belong not just to him. They are the sentiments of Malcolm X . . . they are the expression of the people of Gaza who struggle against Israeli oppression . . . they are the voice of approximately 1.6 billion adherents around the world. Let's take a moment and seek to understand.

Kenny Tour from “Ask A Muslim” writes . . .

Public Perceptions

  Many people have little to no knowledge about the religion of Islam. They've seen things on the news, heard something from a neighbor or co-worker or have tried to read about it on their own, however they are usually left with more questions or misconceptions than answers. In a world flooded with misinformation both from malicious sources and plain ignorant ones, it is difficult for a person to get a thorough and truthful understanding of what Islam is and what Muslims believe. The mainstream media has done an excellent job of painting a picture of what Muslims are, however it simply isn't accurate. They've created an image that fits their narrative; a narrative of fear and xenophobia. American political society, with the media as its barking dog, has always required a scapegoat. Throughout history it has been blacks, Asians, Jews and communists; today it is Muslims. We at Ask A Muslim seek to change this narrative. We are Muslims and we are here to paint a truthful picture of ourselves. We seek to engage people in thoughtful dialogue, answering their questions about Islam, explaining core Islamic beliefs and inviting people to Islam.

What Is Islam ?

  Islam literally means submission to the will of God and a Muslim is the person who submits. Islamic doctrine can be summarized in one word: monotheism. We believe in one almighty God who created the heavens and earth, the angels, mankind and all other creatures. He is the creator and all else is the creation. The purpose and sublime goal of the human being is to worship God alone, without partner, according to how he wants to be worshiped. Many ask the question: "how do we know how God wants us to worship him?" The answer is simple. God almighty has sent to humanity throughout history great men as prophets and messengers. They have delivered to us the message of God. They were sent with scriptures, revelations from God, as the instruction manual for success in this life and the next. All of the noble prophets of God brought the same message: Thou shalt have no other gods before me; Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; La ilaha ila Allah (there is nothing worthy of worship except God). We as Muslims, believe in all the prophets and their messages. The Qur'an says: He (God) has sent down upon you (O Muhammad peace and blessings of God upon him) the book in truth, confirming what was before it. He revealed the Torah and the Gospel before, as guidance for the people. And he revealed the Qur'an (3:3-4).
  Throughout history, the pure scriptures of God were corrupted by those seeking worldly gain from religion. They added and subtracted and altered verses in a way that pleased themselves. God sent the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God upon him) as the final prophet and with the final, incorruptible revelation from God. It confirmed what was truthful from the previous scriptures as taught by Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus (may peace be upon them all). The Qur'an is the only book on Earth that is memorized by millions of people. Children as young as ten years old have committed the entire book to memory. Islam is based upon five pillars and six articles of faith. The pillars are testifying your belief in one God, Prayer, Fasting, Charity and Pilgrimage. The articles are belief in God, belief in the Prophets, belief in the scriptures and revelations, belief in the angels, belief in the day of judgement and belief in predestination. These are the core concepts of Islam. We as Muslims must believe in and act according to them.

Social Equality

  Islam emphatically and unequivocally rejects concepts like racism, classism and oppression. These were concepts that were prevalent in pre-Islamic Arabian society but were utterly destroyed by the teachings of Islam. People who have reacquired these backward notions are more akin to those living in the period of jahiliyya, or pre-Islamic ignorance than to the companions and followers of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God upon him). These are core issues that continue to affect our society, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. For us to take steps in the right direction to eliminate these societal diseases we must turn to the scriptures of God who created men and women of all races and rank. Unfortunately we are witnessing the justification of such discriminatory beliefs and oppressive actions through the use of scripture. Many religions are built upon a classist, elitist system that thrives off of the misery and dependence of the weak. Even religions without a specified caste system have had a tendency to create a society of haves and have-nots. Through living, practicing and implementing Islamic law in our every day lives, we as Muslims take a small but important step towards eradicating these societal plagues. Islam has dictated the best course of action for absolutely every major and minor detail of our lives. We believe we can exist in a society where people are not bound and oppressed, but truly free to live their life within the prescribed limits.

Ask A Muslim

  We at Ask A Muslim simply wish to share our beliefs with those who would like to hear it. We do not seek debates or arguments, but seek a mutual understanding of each other through the prism of the scriptures. Ask A Muslim is a Columbus based educational organization that seeks to teach people about the religion of Islam. Our goal is to clear misconceptions people have about the faith and to engage people in thought provoking dialogue. For us as Muslims, it is a religious duty to convey the message of Islam. We strive not only to explain our beliefs, but also to implement them in our actions. Islam came to perfect good manners. We have many activities that seek to create positive change in the community. We work feeding the homeless and seek to enjoin good and forbid evil. We believe in making a lasting positive impact on the community around us. We believe in order for people to better understand our religion, they need to ask someone who is practicing and living it every day.
  If you have a question about Islam, Ask A Muslim. You can connect with us at askamuslim.com, by calling 1 (855) YOU ASK MUSLIM or by liking our facebook page.

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