The Council on American Islamic Relations – Michigan Chapter recently held the “Presenting Islam To Fellow Americans” (PITFA) workshop at the Eastern Michigan University for the Muslim Students Association.
The speakers were Imam Dawud Walid - Executive Director of CAIR‐MI, Nadia Bazzy – Community activist and Attorney Haaris Ahmed. The Hot Seat Interactive Session was carried out by Raheem Hanifa – Media Outreach Coordinator of CAIR –MI.
Walid’s lecture basically dealt with tips and advice on how to deal with certain particularly difficult questions.
He advised the students that if ever anyone asks a negative question about Islam, we should never reinforce the frame of the question.
For instance, If someone asks about Islam and Terrorism, he said, “never reply in the negative and never repeat the word 'terrorism' in the same sentence with the word Islam because they have been hearing Islam and Terrorism together so many times that if one uses the two words in the same sentence, the questioner will only hear ‘Islam’ and ‘Terrorism’ and nothing else that you said.”
He also said that we should reply in the positive and outside the frame of questioning. Meaning instead of saying what Islam is not, we should say what Islam is.
He also said that we as Muslims should be intellectually honest and should accept where we as Muslims may be at fault.
He also spoke about Muslims having extremists in our midst who do criminal things, and we as Muslims should accept that there are Muslims who do it, instead of clinging to conspiracy theories. “It is not always a Zionist‐Indian conspiracy if a bomb goes off in Pakistan,” he said.
Walid also spoke about the few most talked about misconceptions and most often asked question relating to Islam.
One of the current hot topics about Islam is the protests and revolutions shaking the Arab world.
“Many times our faith is tied into the current geo‐political situation. People see something on the news and we are asked about it,” he said.
The best way to answer those questions is to say that “It is a human aspiration to be free. Freedom of speech, expression, religious practice, freedom of the press is what people seek,” he said.
“American people have an understanding and respect for these notions, and freedom of speech and freedom of the press resonates well with the American public,” Walid said.
One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about Islam is that they seem to think that Muslims in America have an agenda and seek to impose Islam on other people.
“The best way to answer that would be to be honest and tell them that Islam respects the freedom of choice of religion or ideology.”
“It would also be good to give examples from Muslim history. When Muslims ruled Spain, Christians and Jews had their own courts and were governed according to their own religious laws. This was also the case in India and even after almost 800 years of Muslim rule, the majority of people in India and people of faiths other than Islam. This is also true for West Africa and Mali in particular as that region was not conquered by any Muslim armies”
Nadia Bazzy, the second speaker, spoke about how to engage the American psyche.
“We have to engage the American psyche; we are Americans and a part of this collective psyche.” She said.
She said that we have to know our audience. America is a very diverse society and our approach should be designed for the audience, if you are speaking to an audience of students, you should know how to engage them and if you are speaking to an audience of college professors, you should know how to engage them.” she said
She also spoke about liberal multiculturalism. Liberal multiculturalism is when people get together by way of food and dresses and to an extant language however when a political topic comes up, people feel uncomfortable.
“Politics is uncomfortable, it should feel uncomfortable if you are talking about oppression” she said.
“Never enter a dialogue looking for someone to be right and someone to be wrong. Enter into a dialogue to share your points of view and in turn listen to their point of view. Seek to understand, before being understood,” she said.
“Americans love stories, they like to search for stories in everything. You should use personal stories to humanize yourself. Seek to make friendships and you do not always have to have all the answers,” she said.
Ahmed gave tips on how to be an effective speaker. He said the best way to be comfortable with an audience is to get to know them first, mingle with your audience and create a connection with them before going to the podium.
“The most important part of public speaking is the preparation,” he said.
He stressed on the importance of sincerity and the intention or the speaker. He also stressed on topic.
“Ask yourself, if you are the right person to talk on this topic, if you are not, then don’t” he said.
“Write your speech out, word for word if you need. Practice the delivery of your speech, have your friend film you and give you a critique and memorize your outline” he said.
“At the venue, make friends among the audience before going up to the podium, this will help you make eye contact. Make a connection with your audience” he emphasized.
After that was the ‘Hot Seat Interactive Session’, and Raheem Hanifa was the moderator of the session. He asked the students hard and tough questions about Islam and put them on the ‘Hot Seat’.
It was an educating and illuminating experience and a person can learn a lot in these PITFA workshops.