By Roger McKinney
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
This is the end of Islam Awareness week, though probably few have been aware of it. But becoming aware of Islam and Muslims is easier than ever for those in the Joplin area.
Hina Qidwai, a member of the Islamic Society of Joplin, proposed a rational solution at last Friday's cultural night when a participant asked how he could dispel myths and misinformation about Muslims repeated at his church.
"Just talk with one of us," Qidwai said. "Ask one of us."
The ISJ cultural nights, at 6:30 p.m. on the second Friday of each month, provide the perfect opportunity for that. They're held at the former J.B. Elephant's restaurant in the Pavilions West shopping center, 1802 W. 32nd St., suite K. The cultural nights are a public outreach by local Muslims in appreciation of the favorable public response to the suspicious fire that destroyed the mosque on Aug. 6.
Member Kimberly Kester made last week's presentation, noting that she's not an Islamic scholar. There was a good turnout of non-Muslims and a lively and respectful dialogue.
Muslims believe in God, using the Arabic word Allah. Kester said Arab Christians also use Allah.
"It is a monotheistic religion and it is the same God worshiped by Jews and Christians," Kester said.
Kester said Muslims don't worship the prophet Muhammad. He is viewed as the final prophet, who brought God's word in the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Muslims believe the angel Gabriel gave the Quran to Muhammad over a period of years.
She said Muslims believe all the messengers of God are equal. Those prophets include Abraham, Job, Noah, David and Jesus.
"Jesus is mentioned 25 times in the Quran," Kester said. "He is referred to in the Quran as messiah. We believe in the virgin birth and all of Jesus' miracles. We believe he will return on judgment day."
Muslims don't recognize Jesus as a deity or the son of God, she said. They don't believe Jesus died on the cross, but another man died in his place and that Jesus ascended in to heaven. And an entire section of the Quran is about Mary, she said.
There are five "pillars" or commitments in Islam. The first is the shahada, the declaration: "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his messenger."
Muslims are required to pray five times a day. Muslims are required to perform zakat, or give to charity. Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims are required to perform the hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca once during their lives.
Kester also addressed dress, including the head coverings worn by women, usually called a hijab, and the more severe burqas and other full-body cloaks worn by some Muslim women.
"The Quran instructs women and men to dress modestly," Kester said, adding that it doesn't say much else on the topic. She said wearing the hijab is a personal choice, noting that some Muslim women in the room were wearing a hijab and others weren't. Kester wasn't. "We can't just say one style of dress is Muslim," she said. "We see it as our personal decision."
She said in countries where women are dressed more conservatively, it's usually because of governments or cultures, not religion.
Kester talked about the term jihad, which she said has been incorrectly described as holy war.
"Jihad is your personal spiritual battle," she said.
Kester acknowledged that violent acts are described in the Quran. She said if one reads on for a few verses, the historical context of the statement are usually explained.
"Take history into account when reading the Quran," she said. "Focus on the message."
The next Islamic Society of Joplin cultural night will be at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 12, at the same location.
Roger McKinney is a staff reporter for The Joplin Globe. Contact him at email@example.com.