The past week has seen rallies, protests, outraged individuals who oppose abortions and those who believe that a woman's choice about her womb should be her own. Within the often-heated exchanges during the week, members of Operation Save America and their supporters took the opportunity to present other platforms that seemingly have little to do with reproductive health. Saturday, July 15, in Smith Park at the pro-choice rally, holding signs and yelling at the "Sodomites," several people were clad in shirts that on the front read, "Intolerance." Days later, anti-abortion zealots burned a Koran in front of Making Jesus Real Church.
On Sunday afternoon, I had an opportunity to sit and talk with co-founders and manger of the International Museum of Muslim Culture, Sababu Rashid and his wife, Okolo, after Sababu delivered the sermon and Okolo made a presentation about Islam at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jackson.
So, what was your reaction to hearing abortion opponents had burned a Koran?
Sababu: It was my sister who told me that they'd burned the Koran. I thought she was mistaken. But she said no, they actually burned it. I went out and got the paper and saw that it was so. My initial question was, "Why would they do that?" I didn't know what that had to do with abortion. Islam is against abortion—the taking of a baby's life--—unless it's going to affect the life of the mother. So what's the problem? They're confused.
I remember a long time ago, an optometrist who had his office on Farish Street for many years, Dr. White, would refer to God as the God of order. He'd say that repeatedly as he got older, and as I matured, I began to understand fully the degree of wisdom and logic in what he was saying. Everything in the universe, you see, has order. My concern with the people who're protesting is that it doesn't show a sense of order. They use shock value to make their point. And the burning of the Koran, I believe, was trying to add some shock value to elicit some type of emotional response from us in order to highlight or enlarge their cause. These are confused people.
Okolo: I tried to understand like most people. I agree with Sababu. It speaks to confusion. If they were doing that because they say that the Muslim religion promotes violence, they don't even realize that what they'd done was a violent act.
Sababu: At the church today, I felt compelled to make the point that I question protesters' motives. And for those who should know better and have been around, my question to them is, "where was the fervor years ago, when innocent African-American people were being brutalized, lynched, decapitated, burned?"
Okolo: Even now, if you're concerned about life and violence against humanity, then you have to do it across the board. You have to look at those cases that existed then and then also now try to bring justice.
What do you say to people who criticize Islam as a violent religion, if they're willing to listen to your response?
Okolo: I ask a question to that question. Are Muslims the only ones who've perpetrated violent acts? Muslims have been put in a position where we're always on the defensive.
Sababu: There have been good people in various religions who have done some very valued things. They've been selfless in their efforts to aid humanity. Likewise, there've been those who've done some most hideous things to mankind in the name of faith. That goes for not only Islam, but across the board. That's man's struggle to understand God's way. No one can just point to Islam and call it violent. There's enough to go around in terms of atrocities. Islam stands on the premise of peace.
Okolo: The prophets who brought the faith, those should be our models. Mohammed, Christ, others. …
How have you worked to bring communities of faith together?
Okolo: We have been very involved in building a diverse Islamic community. For the last 20 years, we've been working in the Jackson community to build a brotherhood of all the faith communities, period by promoting the real tenets of the religion. We want to call people back to basics. We're involved in an effort in the mosque to restructure the bylaws and constitution to have diverse leadership on the board so that we can have a real practicing community. We're still working. It's not perfect.
Through the museum, the Rashids, along with Emad Al-Turk and his wife, Karen, have been working diligently to be a bridge to understanding and cooperation among the various faith groups in the city of Jackson and the state, promoting racial reconciliation and empowerment. The Timbuktu exhibit will be featured in the museum's new location in the Mississippi Arts Center beginning November 27, 2006.
The Rashids are amazing people. I had asked them on relatively short notice if they would be willing to do this service, and they both said yes, no question. And then they showed up and they delivered something amazing. The entire room was transfixed. It was masterful.
We have such amazing ambassadors for Islam in the capitol area--the Rashids, Sabri Agachan, Ali Shamsiddeen, and of course Imam Shaheed Muhammad, to name just a few. The local Muslim community's level of participation in interfaith projects, such as the Habitat Peace House, has been tremendous.
When Flip Benham burned that Qur'an last week, I'm sure he expected anger, threats, and wild condemnation. What he got instead was calm, peace, and love. It would have shamed the poor man if he had any dignity left.
- Tom Head
And I almost forgot to mention another highlight from Sunday: Finally getting to meet the delightful Natalie Collier! Excellent interview.
- Tom Head