-By Dina Rashed, IOL Chicago correspondent
CHICAGO, August 11 (IslamOnline) - The International Strategy and Policy Institute (ISPI), an American Muslim think tank based in Illinois, dedicated its latest quarterly lecture held on Friday evening, August 9,to examining how the life and sunnah [Prophetic tradition] of Prophet Mohammad can help lead Muslims around the world and especially American Muslims in the aftermath of September 11.
Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, a scholar-in-residence for the Nawawi Foundation, and the keynote guest, spoke of the importance of making the house of Islam an attractive home both to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, while Dr. Javeed Akhter, a physician by profession and executive director of ISPI, presented his latest published work, a book about the life of the Prophet titled: The Seven Phases of Prophet Muhammad's Life .
Talking to the audience Dr. Abd-Allah stressed two main points; the importance of Muslims clearly shaping their identity, and how to make Islam a beautiful home for all.
"We must define ourselves, as the Prophet, God bless him, defined himself and his community," said Abd-Allah, a life long researcher of Islamic civilization who taught comparative religion and Islam in over three continents. He added that it is imperative to clearly state the nature of the American Muslim's identity, what they are all about, and what is the beautiful faith that they stand for.
He said that with at least six million American Muslims in the U.S., these Muslims are the custodians of Islam in this country and therefore it is their duty to make it Dar-ul-Islam, or the house of Islam, a beautiful home to all.
He added that despite the people who carry Muslim names and have different affiliations, who legitimize burning churches and synagogues and tend to identify themselves and their acts with Islam, there are millions of other Muslims who do not agree to these wrongdoings. These millions have to clearly state that they do not approve of the killing others and burning of other houses of worship.
"It is very important that we make it clear that not only that this is wrong, that it is against our faith, but that we do not stand for anything like that. We stand for the Islam of our Prophet, that is humane and beautiful," he said, "As long as we fail to define ourselves, as long as we fail to make ourselves known to American people, then we will be defined by circumstances. And that is what we have seen happening for many years."
With a mixture of history and seerah (or, the Prophet's life), Abd-Allah, who was a Protestant before following Islam, drew from the life of the Prophet and his guidance to his companions, whose deep and profound understanding of the beautiful spirit of Islam helped spread the faith in what he identified as the core lands such as Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Anatolia and Spain.
Abd-Allah observed that the beautiful face of Islam as displayed by these Muslims reminded the Christian majority then of the original teachings of Christianity and therefore convinced them to electively follow that beautiful new religion.
He noted that if any lessons could be drawn from Islamic history, it would be the fact that the last 300 years, when Muslims have been politically at their weakest and most socially decadent. During the past 300 years, Islam has been in its dark ages, whereas the first millennium that preceded them were more of a golden age as Muslim countries witnessed an economic boom as well as a flourishing of the arts.
He said that the highest level of following the seerah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his sunnah was not merely manifested in physically imitating the Prophet's rituals, but is more the emulation of his behavior and character; that is, following in his footsteps and taking on his personality.
Dr. Akhter, whose book highlights the Prophet's life said that many of the questions that encounter some Muslims nowadays like dealing with the other, living in a multi-religious or multi-ethnic communities could be easily answered by examining the Prophet's life and his tradition and his dealings with people outside his Muslim community, especially in Medina.
"The situation where some Muslims live as a minority especially post 9/11 is very similar to the early experience of the Prophet and his followers. He was stereotyped, physically and verbally abused, socially ostracized and economically boycotted. His response was to be stoic in the face of hostility, to remain patient in the face of adversity, and to spread the message in the best possible manner," said Dr. Akhter.
Akhter's book is not an intensive study in the seerah, as he notes, but rather a holistic approach to the major themes of the Prophet's life, targeting a group of new Muslims, younger American Muslim generations and those searching to know more about the Prophet in a simple clear way.
ISPI was founded in 1994 by a group of American Muslims in Chicago, Illinois. It dedicates its quarterly lecture series to discussion of issues concerning culture, public policy, history and ethics. It has also released a number of publications on current issues from an Islamic perspective.
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