Hundreds attend Islam Q&A sessions

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Sandra Akkad answers a question during the Muslim Women Speak event Sunday at the University of New Mexico Student Union Building. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — What would Muhammad say about the Islamic State group?

Is Islam compatible with democracy?

Are Muslim women allowed to use contraceptives?

A panel of 10 Muslim women tackled these and other audience questions Sunday afternoon during a Muslim Women Speak program at the University of New Mexico.

About 350 people attended the free event Sunday at UNM’s Student Union Building. Hundreds of people attended a similar program in Santa Fe a week ago. And the group said they would like to put on other events around the state.

The women tackled questions submitted by audience members, in turn addressing questions of violence, customs, prayer, religious rules, homosexuality in the faith, political differences within the faith and the history of Islam.

When the question about Muslim women and contraceptives came up, there was no hesitation in passing the microphone to Samia Assed, a third-generation Palestinian-American who was born in Dearborn, Mich. She now operates restaurants in Santa Fe, and she is the mother of nine children.

Despite what the size of her family might suggest, Assed said contraceptives are permitted by her faith.

“Islam allows us to organize our births,” she said. “But we believe all children are gifts from God.”

The program was created by travel writer Judith Fein of Santa Fe to give people the chance to learn about Muslims first hand rather than by soaking up the often-derogatory rhetoric heard in America today.

Bob Johnson, 71, a retired high school history teacher, and Marilyn Schaedla, 76, who has devoted most of her life to volunteer programs of one kind or another, attended the UNM event.

Schaedla said she was there because she has always been interested in different cultures.

“When you listen to each other and can have a mutual understanding, that helps us work together,” she said.

While he was a teacher in northern Indiana, Johnson taught Muslim culture in his world history classes and took his students to a mosque when they went on field trips to Chicago. He said curiosity was his motive for attending.

The women on the panel ranged in age from the mid-30s to late 70s. Some are foreign born, others were born in America. Some grew up in the Muslim faith, others converted. Some cover their heads, others don’t. All now live in New Mexico.

Sandra Akkad is a New Mexico native of Palestinian descent and adjunct instructor in UNM’s Peace Studies Department.

“Islam in no shape or form advocates violence,” Akkad told the crowd. “That is a fallacy. The Quran says God does not love the transgressor. If Muhammad saw ISIS (Islamic State) today, his blood would boil. He would be angry. ISIS makes me angry, but the truth is a good way to channel your anger. You deal with it by working, doing and accomplishing.”

Sabiha Quraishi is a native of India, but she and her husband have operated a jewelry manufacturing business in Albuquerque for 27 years. She quoted Muhammad on anger management.

“The Prophet says if you are standing up and are angry, sit down. If you are sitting down and are angry, lie down.”

In response to another question, Assed said there is no conflict in being a good Muslim and being a loyal American.

“We do not live by another standard of law,” she said. “In the U.S., we abide by the Constitution. You can be a good Catholic and abide by American law. We can be good Muslims and abide by American law.”

Kathy Ahghar, an assistant city attorney with the city of Albuquerque, converted to the Muslim faith after being introduced to it during her college studies.

“I don’t have a fear of what people can do to me,” she said. “I’m an American and I’m an attorney. I know what my rights are. Don’t tell me I can’t practice my religion. But there are Muslims who do not have that level of security and comfort. I’m here to be their voice.”

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Sandra Akkad, left, and Kathy Ahghar laugh during a lighter moment of Sunday's Muslim Women Speak event at UNM's Student Union Building.

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A large and engaged audience asked a wide variety of questions during Sunday's Muslim Women Speak event at UNM's Student Union Building.

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