Suhaib Webb’s mother lives in Oklahoma and practices Christianity. His brother is politically conservative and listens to lectures by Franklin Graham, a known critic of Islam who described the religion as evil. However, Webb, a convert to Islam, is an imam at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury, Massachusetts.
“I get a phone call at least every week having to explain something that (my mom) has seen on the news,” Webb said. “Even though her son is someone who is trained in Islamic studies, she still calls me with questions. She has her concerns.”
On March 15 in Reynolds Alumni Center, around 80 people gathered to hear Webb speak about the impacts of islamophobia and the experience of Muslims in the U.S.
People of all ages attended the lecture, from early childhood age to elderly adults. The lecture consisted of a discussion from Webb, a question and answer session and a break for prayer.
“There are concerns about Islam and what Islam means for the future of America,” Webb said. “People are worried about their freedom. I’ve had a policymaker tell me that I have to somehow sacrifice my Americanism. ‘Islam means the disinvestment of freedom.’”
According to The Boston Globe, Webb’s grandfather was a preacher. When Webb was a teenager, he became involved in a gang in Oklahoma City. In 1992, curiosity from Muslim friends encouraged him to check out the Quran from the library, where the ideas resonated with him more than those of his family’s religion. While studying education at the University of Oklahoma, he converted to Islam.
Webb discussed the different Muslim communities within the American society, primarily hyper-literalists, who he described as people who take everything they read in the Quran extremely literally. He compared them to their Christian counterparts, who think the Bible is the literal word of God that we are meant to live by exactly.
“The danger of hyper-literalism that our scholars warned us about (is that) the outcome of literalism is delusion,” Webb said.
Webb said he counseled a young man who was influenced by jihadi literal narrative and asked him how he saw himself “fighting the Americans,” to which the young man reported he would be on a horse.
“I said, ‘You’re gonna be on a horse? Against a drone? I play Call of Duty (and) that’s not one of the packs you can buy on Call of Duty, bro,’” Webb said.
Webb pointed out famous figures in the Muslim community. Among them: comedian Dave Chappelle and his brother and Remy Danton from House of Cards.
Due to racial tension in November 2015, Muslim Student Organization education officer Adam Mefrakis said that interim Chancellor Hank Foley and interim Vice Chancellor for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Chuck Henson reached out to MSO in an effort to bring related speakers to campus. MSO worked with administration and the Department of Student Activities to bring in speakers and organize the event.
“I think there’s a common thread between all the (religious and minority) organizations; there is a lack of understanding of the issues that they face,” Mefrakis said. “One of our priorities today is to address the misconceptions.”
Webb spoke about the fundamental principles behind Islam and Sharia, to bring benefit and prevent harm. He addressed the reasoning behind his ideas and arguments to enhance the audience’s understanding about the majority of the Muslim community’s beliefs and values.
“Over and over in the Quran, you’ll hear verses about preventing evil, ‘fasting keeps you from vice,’ ‘in marriage you should not harm your spouse,’” Webb said. “In divorce, ‘don’t keep them to hurt them.’ It talks about children, how you should not harm them. Over and over we see this theme, the idea of not harming.”
Iman Al-Hassan, a health science major at UM-Kansas City, drove to MU just to hear Webb speak. Al-Hassan said that she suffered bullying in school because of her identity. She struggled to find a balance between the surrounding American culture, her parent’s native Nigerian culture and the American Muslim culture.
“My identity is based on what I am forced to learn,” Al-Hassan said. “I’ve heard all the slurs, all the negativity, the media. There’s very little that can surprise me from leaders and the general public. It’s taught me how to be a better person in general.”
In his lecture, Webb also talked about the immense similarities between Muslims and non-Muslims. He discussed his stance on issues like abortion and those who identify as transgender and how he believes people should accept their freedom to practice religion and respect the freedom for others to do as they please.
“Whatever Caitlin (Jenner) wants to do she can do,” Webb said. “It doesn’t affect my life.”
Al-Hassan said that she was surprised to hear Webb’s revelations on his statement about Muslims not being much different than others on issues.
“Sometimes you form ideas based on bias instead of fact because I taught myself or I believed what my parent’s culture said or what American culture said,” Al-Hassan said.
When asked what is important for non-Muslim students to know, Mefrakis responded that MU students should come to events held by religious or cultural organizations to hear their perspectives.
“Our religion is from ‘salima,’ that (means) peace,” Mefrakis said.
Edited by Waverly Colville | firstname.lastname@example.org