REGINA — “I think Muslims are becoming more adept at outreach, in civic engagement and being part of the wider community,” said Zarqa Nawaz, TV producer and author. She, along with Dr. Sami Helewa, SJ, in two separate interviews with the Prairie Messenger, discussed Islam and talked about how local Muslims are dealing with the negative and sometimes horrific images coming out of the strife in the Middle East.
Nawaz is the creator and producer of the TV series Little Mosque on the Prairie, author of Laughing all the way to the Mosque, and is working on a novel. Helewa teaches religion, including Islam, at Campion College, University of Regina, and grew up among Muslims while living in the Middle East.
Both Nawaz and Helewa suggested people should perhaps study some history to better understand the positive role Islam has played in the world.
Both said what is being perpetrated in the name of Islam is not mainstream and most Muslims are simply working, looking after their families, the same as everyone else in society. Helewa acknowledged that most of the negative image of Islam comes from the media.
“It focuses more on the radical groups than the usual day-to-day typical Muslim life and people who are productive in their own societies.”
Helewa said people look at Islam as a religion, but it is also a civilization. “It is important to study Islam in its historical context to see how it spread,” and get to know more about Islam as a civilization, its culture, “for example, its art. This is an area that is neglected and it’s not very hot even among many academics who are interested in religions.”
He gave as an example the development of calligraphy that was used to “highlight Quranic verses in artistic forms.” He also noted that Islam, like other religions, is changing “and is being challenged by the invasion of secularism.”
Nawaz said Muslims are part of the larger community. “We can’t just be raising money for their own causes but they have to join forces with the wider community. We are all together and we need to look toward social justice for everyone. As Muslims we need to care about the homeless situation in Saskatchewan, what can we do; we need to care about First Nations and be part of the solutions.”
The rise of ISIS is not because of any inherent evil in Islam, “which is ridiculous,” but instead is the result of the Bush administration attacking Iraq without reason. “It was a big political mistake. It destroyed the power structure in the Middle East and allowed others to move in.”
Helewa said his approach in teaching Islam is one of respect. “I think Islamic history and Islamic culture, Islamic religion are really good topics to study to appreciate its influence on many civilizations.”