STRATFORD – Attending a presentation about Islam in Stratford, Connecticut, Barbara Heimlich recognized for the first time the similarity between Islam and other Abrahamic faiths.
“I never realized how close Islam is to Judaism and Christianity as well. All faiths seem to have essentially the same believes — they are just expressed in different ways,” Heimlich said after a presentation by Imam Sami Abdul Aziz, Stratford Star reported on Tuesday, August 15.
“I learned a lot,” she added.
Abdul Aziz, the religious leader of the Bloomfield Muslim Community Center, gave a presentation about Islam at the Baldwin Center earlier in August.
Speaking to an audience of about 125 people, the Muslim chaplain at Wesleyan University discussed the five pillars of Islam, how Muslims pray, how a mosque operates, the difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and misconceptions on how the religion treats women.
Audience members asked questions, such as on Sharia law, and Abdul Aziz showed a few short videos.
Stratford Senior Services Director Diane Puterski, who invited Aziz, said people should have accurate information about a religion.
“There are too many stereotypes out there,” she said. “He helped to clarify some of the myths. We need to bridge our gaps.”
During the talk, the imam corrected many misconceptions about Islam, including false rumors that Muslims were basically Arab.
Of the 1.7-billion Muslims — or “one-fourth of the people in the world,” as Aziz put it — only 20% are Arabs. The countries with the largest number of Muslims are Indonesia, Pakistan and India.
“We focus on the Middle East and North Africa, but most are in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Aziz, a native of India, a predominantly Hindu nation.
The imam also blamed Hollywood for depicting followers of Islam negatively, leading to “irrational fears” among the general public.
Saudi Arabia is the only Muslim-majority nation that forbids women from driving, yet many people may presume that is a common law throughout the Islamic world.
“I don’t think that has anything to do with Islam,” Aziz said of the Saudi driving rule.
“That’s their interpretation of the Qur’an. The other Muslim-majority 14 countries came to a different interpretation.”
Aziz invited guests to visit a mosque. “You can just walk in and pray,” he said.
“They don’t ask you if you are a Muslim.”
He suggested people read the Qur’an, and not just interpretations of it. “You’ll find so many similarities to the Bible,” he said, stressing that Islam does teach tolerance.
“Everyone is equal to God, regardless of how rich you are, or the color of your skin,” he said.