A Chat With ‘an Average Muslim’ – Clearing Misconceptions About Islam

When you walk into room 0204 in Cole Field House, you see a sign asking you to remove your shoes.


This is a place where Muslim students gather to pray. It’s also where the Muslim Students Association hosted “Chat With The Chaplain,” an event that was part of last week’s Islam Awareness series. 

However, the speaker wasn’t a chaplain.

Ali Darwish introduced himself as a former University of Maryland student, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and an “average Muslim.”

Ali Darwish speaks about what it means to be a Muslim in Cole Field House on April 14, 2016. (Jack Angelo/Bloc Reporter)
Ali Darwish speaks about what it means to be a Muslim in Cole Field House on April 14, 2016. (Jack Angelo/Bloc Reporter)

Darwish said he wanted to provide the attendees with a simple understanding of Islam and the perspective of an average Muslim.

He spent the first half of his talk going over the basics of Islam: the pillars of belief and the pillars of practice.

The pillars of belief are what a Muslim needs to believe in order to be a Muslim, Darwish explained. The six pillars of belief include belief in Allah, angels, scriptures, messengers, the Day of Judgement and destiny.

The most important of these beliefs is the belief in Allah, said Darwish. To accentuate this point, he recited a passage from the Quran—first with a melodic voice in Arabic, and then with the English translation.

And with Him are the keys of the unseen; none knows them except Him. And He knows what is on the land and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but that He knows it. And no grain is there within the darknesses of the earth and no moist or dry thing but that it is written in a clear record.” (Chapter 6, Verse 59)

The pillars of practice are what Muslims need to do in order to be a Muslim, said Darwish. They include profession of faith, prayer, charity, fasting and a pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime.

Sophomore biology major Haris Ansari, who is also on the MSA board, said the event helped to correct false perceptions of Muslims.

”The way we get rid of stereotypes and the way we start building bridges is through these types of discussions where we talk about uncomfortable topics, and we have the ability to ask questions that we really may not feel are appropriate questions, but should be answered, anyway,” Ansari said. 

Attendees asked Darwish questions about various subjects, but the topic most discussed was ISIS.

Darwish said ISIS calling themselves an “Islamic State” is an oxymoron because their actions directly violate the faith of Islam.

He wanted to clear the air about the matter. Most of ISIS’s targets are also Muslim, said Darwish, pointing to recent bombings in Turkey and Pakistan.

“I think that Islam is very misunderstood. There’s a lot of noise and people claiming to represent Islam that are false representatives. I encourage people to go back to the original sources,” Darwish said. “Read the Koran. Talk to a Muslim, ask their view on things that are happening, because Muslims are perhaps the biggest victims of terrorism, and yet the general public gets the perception that Muslims support terrorism.”

Faizan Wajid, a computer science graduate student, said the discussion was informative and relevant.

“He had a really good dialogue going. I do believe in these kind of cases when you open a forum to the general public to talk about these issues, you do need someone who has the knowledge and the vehicle to talk to people without getting too technical or too controversial, and I think he did that well,” Wajid said. 

Darwish also called for unity among Muslims and non-Muslims, saying that everyone should be willing to accept and cooperate with each other.

“In this fight and in many other [causes] we need to be united. We’re all against poverty, we’re all against discrimination, we’re all against violence and we’re all against terrorism and radicalization, so I think as citizens of this country, we should be on the same page,” Darwish said. 

Featured Photo Credit: Muslim students pay during the early evening in Cole Field House on April 14, 2016. (Jack Angelo/Bloc Reporter)

Rosie Kean is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at vrosekean@gmail.com

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