Bahai News -- THE ROANOKE TIMES - Visiting Muslim leader speaks out about Islam in America Saturday, April 05, 2003

Visiting Muslim leader speaks out about Islam in America


   BLACKSBURG - On Wednesday night, the traditional call to Islamic prayer rang out in the Commonwealth Ballroom at Virginia Tech.

    A young man in a black business suit mounted the stage, raised his hands to his face and called in Arabic across the room of 900 people.

    "God is the greatest.

    "I bear witness that there is no god but God.

    "I bear witness that Mohammed, peace be upon him, is the messenger of God.

    "Hasten to prayer.

    "Hasten to deliverance.

    "God is the greatest.

    "There is no god but God."

    About 100 men and women answered the call to Maghreb, or sunset prayer, including Imam Siraj Wahhaj, the keynote speaker for Islam Awareness Week. After a recitation from the Koran and the prayer, Wahhaj spoke about the challenges of being Muslim in America and what Muslims have to offer America.

    Wahhaj, a New York native, gained national attention in 1987 for closing down 15 drug houses in the Brooklyn neighborhood surrounding his Al-Taqwa mosque. He gave the first Islamic invocation to Congress and went on to help found the Muslims Alliance in North America, a membership organization that promotes the interests of Western-born Muslims.

    Wahhaj touched on life in post-Sept. 11 America, on Muslim approaches to prison reform and on war with Afghanistan and Iraq. But he began by stressing the similarities between Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

    All three of the "great religions" trace their roots to Abraham, the first in a long line of prophets revered by Muslims, including Jesus and ending with Mohammed, he said.

    Jesus, called Esa in Arabic, is mentioned in the Quran 25 times, he said. Muslims believe that Jesus ascended to heaven after the crucifixion and will return to Earth to usher in an age of justice. But to say that Jesus is the Son of God is blasphemy in Islam.

    Muslims revere the Torah and the Christian Bible, Wahhaj said, but they believe that the Quran is the last and greatest of God's revelations and that Mohammed is the last and greatest of God's prophets.

    He emphasized the importance of peace in the Islamic faith, but not all in the audience agreed. Virginia Tech student Hannah Jackson interrogated Wahhaj extensively during the question-and-answer period, pointing out what she called violent passages in the Quran.

    "Militant Muslims are following it [the Quran] more to a tee than the more nominal ones," she said. "I'm keen to discuss religion, but Christianity is the truth. I disagree with Islam."

    John Flanagan also questioned Wahhaj, alluding to the war in Iraq. "As a Christian, if Christians were killing Muslims, I would kill those Christians, but it seems like Muslims will support Muslims who kill," he said.

    Wahhaj countered that the media is responsible for "feeding hate to America" and portraying Muslims unfairly. "Muslims believe in justice," he said. "Our [Muslims and Christians] common enemy is the devil."

    Wahhaj said he "reverted to Islam" while still a student at New York University. He was playing basketball when he heard that Martin Luther King Jr. had died. "I started to cry. I cried all the way home. That's when I psychologically became a Muslim," he said. "I said I'm either going to become a black Muslim or a Black Panther." He joined the Nation of Islam, an organization that developed an extensive prison outreach and converted many prisoners to Islam, including Malcolm X.

    Wahhaj spoke extensively about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. "The tragedy of Sept. 11 is not that 3,000 Americans died, but that 3,000 human beings died," he said.

    He talked about children growing up in Afghanistan and Iraq and warned that these wars are "breeding another generation of people to hate America."

    Hoda Bizri, a Muslim, traveled from Princeton, W.Va., to hear Wahhaj speak. "For the first time here I am afraid to say what I believe, speaking as an American," she said. "Sept. 11 did not affect everyone, but this war is affecting everyone."

    Muslims are disillusioned with America, Wahhaj said. Thousands of Muslims from New York have left the country because of harassment by the government, he said.

    "I don't want to see an Iraqi soldier killed any more than I want to see an American soldier killed," he said. "I have a right to criticize the president.

    "Muslims can give the American government another view. We could help forge the best international policies in the world."



   Upcoming religious events:

    Islam Awareness Week. Sunday, 4 p.m., open house, Al-Ihsan mosque, 1284 North Main St., Blacksburg. Monday, 7 p.m., 129 McBryde Hall, Virginia Tech, "Family and Society in Islam" with Olivia Abdel Monem. Tuesday, 7 p.m., 129 McBryde Hall, "Islamization of Knowledge" with Jamal Al-Barzinji. Wednesday, 7 p.m., 113 McBryde Hall, "Islam in America" with Jamal Al-Barzinji. For more information: or

    Pentecostal Holiness revivals. Today and Sunday at 7 p.m. at Christiansburg Congregational Holiness Church, 1040 South Harless St. Evangelist Steve Board will preach. 382-9623. Today at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. at Merrimac Pentecostal Holiness Church, 894 Merrimac Road. Evangelist Larry Queen will speak. 552-5070.

    Robyn Helzner Trio performances. Today at 8:15 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m., Blacksburg Jewish Community Center, Church Street. $5 for nonmembers. Melanie Dankowicz, 552-7870.

    Blacksburg Counseling Ministries open house. Sunday, 12-2:30 p.m., Blacksburg Presbyterian Church, Church and Eakin streets. Meet the pastoral counselor, the Rev. Catherine McCollough, L.C.S.W., and learn more about the ministry. Refreshments provided.

    "A Gathering of Spiritual Unity." Sunday, 3 p.m., Blacksburg Public Library community room, 200 Miller St. A sharing of prayers, writings and music from many faith traditions. The focus will be "The Divine Springtime" - Naw Ruz (the Baha'i new year), Easter, spring.

    Ninth anniversary celebration. Sunday, 3 p.m., Liberty Full Gospel Fellowship, 86 Lee St., Radford. The Rev. Carwin Casey is the guest speaker. He will be joined by the choir and congregation of his church, First Baptist Church of West Radford. Special singing and refreshments are part of the celebration. 639-1108.

    International celebration of Christian faith. Sunday, 4:30 p.m., Blacksburg Baptist Church, North Main Street. A one-hour worship service for Christians from China, Korea and Blacksburg, with music, dance and a video presentation. A potluck dinner will follow at 6 p.m. Sponsored by the Blacksburg Baptist Deacon Fellowship. 552-3869.

    "Early One Morning." Sunday, 5 p.m., Northside Presbyterian Church, 1017 Progress St., Blacksburg. Clare Fischer-Davies, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Blacksburg, will perform a one-woman monologue in song about Mary Magdalene and her experience of Jesus. There will be a potluck supper; attendees are asked to bring an entree and vegetable or dessert to share. An offering will be collected to cover production expenses. 552-4327.

    Forum on funding human services. Monday, 7:30 p.m., Blacksburg Library, 200 Miller St. A panel including Montgomery County legislators will discuss Virginia's funding crisis and its effect on human services. Sponsored by the New River Chapter of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. 552-3238 or 552-2258.

    Prayers for peace. Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., June Bug Center, 251 Parkway Lane, Floyd. 745-6550 or

    Annual rummage sale. Thursday, 6-8 p.m., and Friday, 8 a.m.-noon, First United Methodist Church, Main and Boulevard streets, Narrows. Sponsored by the United Methodist women to benefit the church. 726-3495.

    Organ and piano concert. April 12, 4 p.m., Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fifth Street, Pulaski. Taylor Baldwin of the Lenoir-Rhyne College A Capella Choir will perform. Free-will offerings requested. 980-3624.

    Mission talk. April 13, 7 p.m., Radford Christian Church, 1300 Second St. A group of Campus Crusade for Christ students from Radford University will talk about their recent mission trip to New York City. 818-6267 or 639-1089.

    Easter drama: "The Glory of His Resurrection": April 12-13 and April 18-20, 7 p.m., Fairlawn Church of God, 7858 Peppers Ferry Blvd. Child care available. 639-1511.

    Voices of Expression concert. April 13, 3 p.m., First Baptist Church, 309 East Clay St., Blacksburg. 26th anniversary concert. Monique Parker, 951-8556.

    Baptist Spring revival. April 14-17, 7 p.m., First Baptist Church, 309 East Clay St., Blacksburg. The Rev. Dr. James M. Whitaker, pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Portsmouth, will lead the revival. Choirs from the Roanoke and New River valleys will perform. Monique Parker, 951-8556.

    Ecumenical Alliance meeting. April 19, 8:30 a.m., Asbury United Methodist Church, Stuart Street, Christiansburg. Guest speaker Hayward Farrar will discuss affirmative action. 552-3833.



    Tonia Moxley: 381-1643,

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