Qasim Rashid believes there’s a philosophy in media that “if it bleeds, it leads.”
He thinks because Robert Spencer’s speech on Monday was more sensationalized, it garnered more attention. Rashid’s event, by contrast, was smaller, quieter and more peaceful. Approximately 125 people attended the event and 20 people left after Rashid's lecture.
“Unfortunately, that has dominated our media lives – what’s going to get more clicks, what’s going to get more views,” Rashid said. “I think that’s why people left. If I spoke up there about how Sharia law is coming and Muslims are taking over, I guarantee you we would have had more.”
Rashid was the featured speaker at an event called “True Islam: A Response to Islamophobes and Terrorists Everywhere,” which took place in 106 O’Brian Tuesday night. Rashid is a civil rights attorney, former Harvard University Fellow of Islamic Studies and Amazon bestselling author. The event aimed to promote what “true” Islam stands for, Rashid said.
“If I were to say that tomorrow 1,000 Muslims are going to donate blood to save lives, it might get a blurb,” Rashid said. “But if I were to say one Muslim is going to yell ‘Allah Akbar’ on a plane and do something and not even say what it is, there would be like a 24-hour news coverage.”
He is not interested in “falsehoods and propaganda,” but rather what he calls the proven model of true Islam. He challenges people to give him all the propaganda they want, and he will respond with this model to explain his point of view.
“Not just fear mongering, meritless garbage that only serves to divide us and create fear,” Rashid said.
He said Muslims are “pure, honest, noble and good-hearted” people.
Rashid said his Muslim community is united by a “true” khalifa who believes in separation of mosque and state, gender equality, universal human rights and religious freedom, referring to the leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Khalifa Mirza Masroor Ahmad.
Rashid spoke about the importance of women in the founding of Islam. He said women are equal to men, citing a part of Sharia that states all the money a man makes belongs to his wife and she gets to keep all of the money she makes.
Sharia is the moral code by which Muslims live, according to Rashid. He said it is no different than canon law for Catholics or halakha for Jews. The belief that those who do not believe in Islam are killed per Sharia is a falsehood spread by “corrupt clerics” and “Islamophobes,” according to Rashid.
He also addressed misconceptions about Jihad. He said Jihad has been depicted by Islamophobes as “forceful conversion through any means necessary,” but it refers to any kind of struggle. Trying to ace exams, lose weight, or fighting cancer are all forms of engaging in Jihad, according to Rashid.
“The speaker last night was promoting ISIS ideology on campus. He was essentially their spokesperson. That’s how dangerous this rhetoric is,” Rashid said.
Rashid explained that there are two narratives being written right now: one says that people are so different from one another that one person’s success depends on the other’s failure.
The first narrative helps people gain attention, Rashid said.
“The other narrative, the one where we come together – there’s no money to be made. There’s no fame, there’s no fortune, there’s a lot of ridicule and a lot of harassment behind it as well,” Rashid said.
Rashid also addressed hate speech and he said it is best combated through education, dialogue and rational discourse.
“If you want to take everything that Islam teaches, every philosophy that Islam has and summarize into one word, it’s to read. It’s to recite. Emphasizing education, investigation, contemplation, reflection, insight, critique,” Rashid said.
He discussed Khalifa Ahmad’s ideology that Jihad should be performed with the pen instead of the sword.
He emphasized the importance of open dialogue on both sides of the debates and said criticism of Islam is not Islamophobia as long as it is presented respectfully.
“Criticism of the prophet of Islam is not Islamophobia and I will fight tooth and nail with Muslims who claim it is. But launching insults against the prophet of Islam and thinking that that is an engaged dialogue and bringing about peace is foolishness,” he said.
During his Q&A, Rashid said no question is off-limits, no matter how taboo or politically incorrect it might seem, in the interest of fostering an open dialogue.
“My only request is that if you ask a question, you must be invested in the answer,” Rashid said. “Even if that requires reading a book. And you laugh because it sounds so simple, but I can’t tell you how many people send me a question, and I send them an article or book to read and they’ll say ‘no if you can’t answer it in a Tweet, it means you’re wrong.”
He also addressed homophobia in Islam. He said while Islam states that marriage is between a man and a woman, discrimination against gay people is against the teachings of the Quran.
“The idea that there should be any discrimination or hatred or persecution of somebody because they’re gay is completely un-Islamic. If a gay person were to come to our mosque, they would be welcomed with open arms,” Rashid said.
Uma Khan felt Rashid’s talk was more productive than Spencer’s because she believes educational dialogue is more helpful than shutting a speaker down.
“Every speaker deserves to say what they have to say, but our response should be an educational response, education has more power,” the sophomore finance major said. “It’s great to have protests but it needs to be a peaceful protest and we have to let the speaker actually speak in order to respond. We don’t just shut someone down like that what happened yesterday.”
Khan said the best defense against anti-Islam speakers such as Robert Spencer is to show the Muslim community’s service, humanity and unity, not just “shutting someone up.”
“Because now that’s his defense, he used that against us,” Khan said.
Elyse Krezmien, a Buffalo woman who found out about the event via Facebook, felt the speech had “really great views on how to fight Islamophobia” and helped her understand how to separate terrorism from Islam.
Maham Alamgir, a sophomore biochemistry major at Niagara University, felt Rashid’s speech highlighted the importance of diversity.
“It shows that people are different and it’s possible to live in harmony with each other and have differing opinions,” Alamgir said. “Whether it’s your race, gender, ethnicity, culture it doesn’t matter, what matters is that we can co exist as individuals and human beings.”
Anser Daud felt the event promoted healthy inter-cultural dialogue.
“I came here and saw that people of all different cultures were here they wanted to genuinely learn and it was good to see that,” Daud said, who traveled from Toronto for the event. “These types of events need to happen more often, not just for Islam but for all types of communities so people can come together and realize at the end of the day we’re just human and we’re so similar.”
*Editor's note: The original article misquoted Rashid and said "women are expected to be subservient to men."
Maddy Fowler is the assistant editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Daniel Petruccelli is the assistant sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com