About 70 people filled the Morton Grove Library's Baxter room Wednesday to hear three Muslim educators, with ties to Morton Grove's Muslim Community Center, give a lively question and answer session about their faith.
Habeeb Qadri, the principal of the MCC's Full Time School and a former staff member and student at Harvard University's Principals' Center, started the evening off with a brief introduction to Islam. Then he joined two others at a panel.
They were Omer Mozaffer, who teaches at the University of Chicago's Graham School and is an adjunct professor of theology at Loyola University, and Abeer Saleh, who teaches science at the MCC's Full Time School.
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They devoted most of the time to answering questions from the audience.
Tim Baylor, of Winnetka, and his father Hal Baylor, of Morton Grove, said they got a good perspective on Islam from the panel.
"More even than the detals, I learned the feeling of the faith," said Hal Baylor.
Tim Baylor said he liked how the speakers related the tenets of their faith to things all people face in daily life.
"It's great to hear people who are thoroughly educated on these matters, and are able to share and relate this information," he said.
Sampling from the Question and Answer period
We've paraphrased a sampling of the questions from the audience, and summarized the answers from the panelists, below.
When greeting Muslims, what do we have to keep in mind? Are there rules about offering Muslims food?
"I don't think we'd ever say no to food," Mozaffer quipped. He outlined that Muslims do not eat pork, blood, carrion (roadkill) or anything slaughtered in the name of anything other than God.
It's okay for Muslims to eat meat that is halal, which means the animal was slaughtered in a way that reduces blood.
In addition, Muslims don't drink alcohol.
Saleh said that Muslims typically don't shake hands with or touch someone of another gender.
What are the rules on Muslim dress?
Saleh explained that modesty is key, with loose clothing that covers all but the face and hands. Some women wear the hijab, or headscarf; others also feel comfortable wearing a face covering.
Men must also be covered from, at minimum, the navel to the knee, Mozaffer said.
Qadri said when he was young he was a huge fan of basketball player Michael Jordan, and cut his sweat pants to a sort of long shorts that Jordan later popularized.
"But I didn't get any money from it," he joked.
Are there differences in teaching and religious traditions of local mosques?
There are universal beliefs, Mozaffer said, but many mosques in the Chicago area are culturally segregated. For example, one on 67th Street in Chicago is African American, and one in Bridgeview is Palestinian. The Morton Grove mosque, however, is made of of many diverse Muslims from many countries.
What is American Islam?
There's not exactly one American Islam, Mozaffer explained. Muslims have different views on many matters, including how to dress and even whether to call God Allah or God. Some conservative Muslims say that the word "God" does not encompass all that is implied in the word "Allah," he explained.
Saleh said she was born in Palestine, came here as a baby, grew up on Chicago's North Side and decided to wear the hijab (headscarf) as an adolescent. She was the only Muslim in her class.
"I just felt I wanted that closeness to God," she said. "It (wearing the hijab) is not a matter of assimilating. It's a matter of identifying myself as a Muslim woman and knowing God had commanded this of me."
But she had to buck peer pressure, and even some bullying, she said.
Mozaffer said that as with any religion, people follow (or don't follow) their religion to different degrees. As a pastoral counselor, he has counseled people with addictions and people who have been brought up following all the Muslim practices and just need to polish already-healthy spiritual practices.
"People are at all levels," he said.
Q. Are children in your school taught patriotism and to say the pledge of allegiance?
Saleh, a science teacher at the school, said children do say the pledge of allegiance. Except for religion, the curriculum is the same as at other schools, she said. Qadri later clarified that while the pledge of allegiance is posted in classrooms, students say it occasionally, but not every day.
"All three of us are second generation Muslim," Qadri said, noting that they, and the Muslim Community Center, participate in Morton Grove's civic and community life, including Fourth of July parade and Farmers Market. They also have adopted a stretch of Forest Preserve land to clean up, and require their kids to give service hours, which they have performed at local non-profit organizations.
"It's not just about us, it's about doing for our community," he said.
Q. Why don't we hear outrage over terrorist attacks?
"There's quite a bit of outrage. But it's not newsworthy," Mozaffer said. "It's repeatedly condemned, but it doesn't make the news."
He also posed the question, "But--is the outrage not already understood?", going on to explain that all humans can safely be assumed to be repelled by the taking, or even the threatening, of life.
Q. What about people who commit violence in the name of their faith?
"Rarely is it a religious act. It's a political move in religious costume," said Mozaffer. He compared those who commit violence in the name of Islam to the Ku Klux Klan in the United States, which committed violence and justified it in religious, cultural and historical terms.
The Koran gives specific rules and limitations about when it is okay to engage in armed conflict or warfare, Mahaffer said, and instructs Muslims to seek peace whenever possible. If an enemy is holding out an olive branch and Muslims suspect it might be a ruse, they're nevertheless compelled to "speak peace," he said.
Are there conservative and liberal Muslims?
Yes Mozaffer said, but there are not blocks of liberals and conservatives. In a diverse congregation like the Morton Grove mosque, the challenge for administrators is to balance views.