As Imam Omar Shaheed looked out at the 150 people who packed the Columbia Museum of Art’s auditorium Sunday night, he was struck by one thing.
“We’re all different religions, but we have a humanity,” he said. “That’s really standing out.”
Shaheed, imam at Masjid as-Salaam in Columbia, was part of the panel at “Dinner and Dialogue: Understanding Islam.” The discussion that was part of the event answered questions about the tenets of Islam, the most common misconceptions about the religion and the similarities between Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
“Islam is one of the most misunderstood religions in South Carolina – or one of the least understood,” said Akif Aydin, president of the South Carolina-based Atlantic Institute, which seeks to foster interfaith dialogue and promote understanding of different religions.
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Aydin said the mention of Islam or Muslims in the United States often connotes imagery of terrorism or radicalism. “Terrorists hijacked the identity of the Muslims,” he said. “They hijacked the identity of Islam.”
Shaheed drew similarities to the ways, he said, the Christian religion was hijacked by the American Christian Knights, a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. He added that suicide goes against the beliefs of Islam.
“So where’s the suicide bomber coming from?” he asked the audience. “You think Islam would preach that? If you do, then you’ve got to believe that what the Klansmen said about Christianity was correct.”
Sunday’s event was put on to address misconceptions about the Islamic religion, according to Glenna Barlow, manager of engagement for the museum. A dinner after the discussion included cuisine from around the Islamic world.
“We thought it was important to differentiate between radical Islam and the majority of peaceful, devout Muslims around the world,” she said.
Melissa Chappell and Kristi Meetze came from Newberry County to the event Sunday. Meetze, 44, was surprised by the similarities between Christianity and Islam, and said events like “Dinner and Dialogue” are important for education.
“To let everybody know that what you see on the news is not the whole story,” she said.
Chappell, 47, said she’s developed an interest in Islam but doesn’t know a lot about it.
“A lot of bad things people say about Islam, it’s not really Islam, but cultural projections that people put on Islam,” she said, specifically noting the perceived prohibition of women driving cars. “That’s not a tenet of Islam. That’s a cultural thing.”