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El-Sayed Discusses Islam, Terrorism

By Richa Maheshwari


Shaker El-Sayed, secretary general of the Muslim American Society, recently came to MIT to discuss his beliefs about the allegations that Islamic values are consistent with terrorist activities.

El-Sayed’s talk, which took place on Wednesday and was entitled “Terrorism: The Islamic Solution,” addressed the issue of whether Islam encourages terrorism. This speaker topic was chosen after the events of September 11, which caused the Muslim Students Association (MSA) to receive many requests for a speaker to defend their religion.

The lecture attempted to illustrate how Islamic values are incoherent with terrorism. “Islam is a religion of moderation and it prohibits extremism in faith,” said El-Sayed.

Jihad akin to Revolutionary War

He outlined the fundamentals of the Islamic faith, and said that the concept of jihad relates to striving. El-Sayed went on to compare jihad to the Revolutionary War.

“It is the same concept as when we fought Britain on this soil. War is acceptable with certain rules and limitations,” he said.

When questioned about Islamic fundamentalists, El-Sayed said the prophet himself warned his disciples of extremism and overzealousness.

“The prophet said that some nights he sleeps, other nights he prays. Some days he fasts, and other days he does not. No one is encouraged to be more prophetic than the prophet,” El-Sayed said.

Some of the talk’s attendees felt that El-Sayed attempted to avoid thoroughly addressing Islamic fundamentalism. “It seems like he came with a very prepared speech ... he did not really answer the question of fundamentalism,” said Beverley F. Martis ’02, who attended the talk.

Approximately 50 people listened to El-Sayed’s talk in 4-237. According to Fadilah A. Khan ’02, co-chair for the Islamic Awareness Week committee, only half of the attendees were Muslim.

Speech part of Islamic week

This speech was part of Islamic Awareness Week, an annual event sponsored by the MSA. This year’s awareness week was an important event in light of the tragedies of September 11, and it was designed to correct some of the misconceptions that many Americans have about the Islam religion.

The executive board of the Muslim Students Association thought it was especially important to increase the community awareness of Islam by making this year’s Islamic Awareness Week more eventful than ever before, Khan said.

“The board was overwhelmed by the quantity of supportive e-mails from members of the MIT community following the incident,” said Basel Y. Al-Naffouri ’02, a member of the MSA.

MIT supports Muslims

The MSA set up a booth in lobby 10 this past week to provide information about Muslims to the MIT community. They handed out free copies of the Quaran, the holy book of Islam, and made pamphlets with information about Islam available at the booth.

MSA also played a multimedia presentation each day that emphasized the multi-cultural aspects of the Islamic religion. The hour long slide show reviewed the different countries and cultures that Muslims live in.

Despite the rise of hate crimes and racial profiling that some skeptics say have resulted from America’s new war on terrorism, many Muslims at MIT feel that the community has not alienated them because of their religion.

“I didn’t hear of anything happening to Muslim students at MIT,” said Khan. “I think we’re surrounded by so many different people anyway that people are pretty open to the cultures.”

MSA prepares for Ramadan

The MSA is currently preparing for Ramadan, a major Islamic holiday that lasts from November 16 to December 14. They are arranging a series of iftars, community dinners that celebrate the breaking of the fast at sunset for Muslim students. The entire MIT community is welcome to these dinners, which will review fundamental Islamic values and beliefs.