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Yassir Fazaga speaks at UMaine as part of Islam Awareness Week

Christie Edwards

The University of Maine’s Muslim Student Association and Honors College teamed up for the Islam Awareness Week hosting a presentation by world renowned speaker Yassir Fazaga from the Orange County Islamic Foundation in California. He spoke in the Wells Conference Center Friday morning March 22.

According to the OCIF website, Dr. Fazaga was born in Eritrea in Northeast Africa and moved to the U.S. at the age of 15. He has a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies from the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in Virginia and received a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling from California State University, Long Beach.

Islam is a monotheistic religion articulated by the Quran, which is considered the Word of God. A believer in Islam is called a Muslim, and the word Islam means “submission to the will of God.”

Fazaga spoke to the audience about the Islamic religion and gave insight to the false light that is often shed on Muslims. Reason for the Islam Awareness Week was to engage in active learning so that students and community members alike could take part in a discussion to learn from one another.

“Ignorance breeds fear: The less we know, the more we are afraid, especially when it comes to us — the muslim community — the way that people have found out about us lately is through headline news,” Fazaga explained.

Fazaga admits that Muslims have historically used violence as a means of solving problems, but he ensures that those actions do not define the religion.

“[It is unfortunate that] a collection of events were mostly defined by some sort of violence,” Fazaga said of how the stereotype of Muslims has been shaped.

“It’s frustrating because when we talk about Islam, we tend to speak about what Islam is not: Islam is not terrorism,” said Fazaga. “We’re constantly on the defense, trying to explain to people this is not Islam. And in the process, we miss out on talking about what Islam is.”

The most mentioned name in the Book of God is Abraham, the second is Moses, the third Noah and the fourth is Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Muslims believe in the miraculous birth of Jesus. Over 100 verses in the Quran are dedicated to speaking just about Jesus.

“I don’t say this in order to say, ‘This is better than that.’ That is not the point,” Fazaga said, aware that his audience was likely to be more familiar with a Christian or Jewish history. “What I’m trying to do is evoke a sense of familiarity.”

Important figures and events are similar in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions. Abraham and Moses, for example, are agreed upon in the three religions. A majority of followers have an idea of who they were and what importance they brought.

However, while Jesus is recognized in all three religions, his story differs. In the Quran, Jesus is referred to as the Messiah who was sent to guide the Children of Israel with a new scripture.

Despite the differences, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world; the number of Muslims recently exceeded the number of Catholics.

Although there are preconceived notions that Muslims are Arabs, in reality Arabs are a small minority within the Muslim community. Arabs only make up 18 percent of the total population.

“The rest of us are not Arabs, me being an example,” Fazaga said.

The majority of Africans are Muslims, and Southeast Asia hosts the largest number of Muslims, in places like Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Interestingly enough, 74 percent of Arabs living in the U.S. are Christian.

“In our stereotyping, we end up victimizing the wrong people,” Fagaza said, after he told a story of a hate crime in California, where a man shot and killed a store owner who looked and sounded Arab. As it turns out, the store owner was a Christian Egyptian.

“Events like this gives a chance to give a face to a religion,” Fazaga explained, noting the importance of looking beyond the stereotypes.