Misunderstanding Islam: How Much do We Really Know?

Islam symbolIn a quieter, more intimate International Week event A Common Word, speaker Amjad Tarsin sought to teach his audience about the truth of Islam. The Muslim chaplain at the University of Toronto, Tarsin was certainly knowledgeable and very passionate about presenting Islam to the U of A crowd. To start, he painted a picture of the Islam we think we know, the Islam that the media has done a fair job of demonizing and demoralizing. From there, he deconstructed this image speaking of peace and brotherhood, bringing a new light to a terribly misrepresented religion.

Tarsin began his discussion by offering an explanation for the existence of religious extremism that exists not only in Islam, but across all other major religions. According to Tarsin “extremes breed other extremes,” creating an image of a self-perpetuating cycle that needs to be broken; he proposed that through understanding what Islam really teaches, we might be able to create an understanding of one another that is stronger than extremism.what_is_islam

In the Koran God talked about his people occupying a middle ground as opposed to flying to different ends of the spectrum; Tarsin explained that “balance and moderation…is actually quite difficult,” but not impossible. In his image, the middle ground is where we can find the greatest level of understanding and the greatest hope of cooperation. In his address to the university audience, Tarsin continued to return to this middle ground ideal and used it as a reference for much of his proposals of peace.

Tarsin several times pointed to the Prophet Mohammed and used his teachings and stories to highlight the lessons, of peace, acceptance, brotherhood and understanding that exist at the core of Islam. One such story seemed to stand out amongst the others and set the tone for the whole of Tarsin’s speech. He spoke about a funeral procession of a Jewish man, which passed by the Prophet and several of his companions. In a moment of respect the Prophet stood, much to the disbelief of those around him. When asked about his behaviour Tarsin explained that Mohammed asked his companions ‘is it not a human being?’ Perhaps this is the attitude that we must learn to take in society, an attitude that sees “others” through the eyes of humanity; as people who live, breathe, feel and love just as we do. Tarsin certainly proposed just this as his theory of peace.

By presenting bits of the history of Islam, Tarsin created a much different image of the religion than is played out in the media and in contemporary Western society as a whole. He explained that Islam was always historically tolerant towards other religions creating a diverse society in which several different religions were able to thrive and co-exist. He pointed to Canada as having a similar type policy, although he did point out that there are still flaws that do need to be addressed to create a truly peaceful Canadian society. Quoting Ghandi Tarsin stated that we need to “be the change [we] wish to see in the world.”

Tarsin ended his discussion by sharing with audience his theory as to the existence of religious extremism. “When you create instability…and you have groups who have an agenda…you start to create a gang mentality and it becomes a really vicious cycle.” He proposed then that we are the solution and we must learn to live, respect and understand one another to fix the mentality of us versus them that exists across all societies. In answer to a student question during the question period of the event – and as his final note – Tarsin asked students to “get to know other people” and “to spend time with another person,” to really learn what different cultures are really all about.

As one of the first official International Week events, Tarsin’s The Golden Era to Islamophobia created an atmosphere of peace and understanding, presenting Islam in its true light. He definitely helped start International Week off on a positive note, and most people in the room seemed quite satisfied with his presentation of what the world could and should be.peace-hands