By Caitlyn Jones
02 June 2016
Eating together is a practice as old as it is sacred. Before humans could write, or even invented paper, they gathered around the table to feast. Christ spoke to his disciples over bread and wine at the Last Supper while Muhammad ate dates with his followers during the nightly meals of Ramadan.
It is a time when people come together to nourish their bodies as well as their minds, speaking with respect for one another and letting ideas flow freely.
This custom was repeated Thursday during a Denton Rotary Club meeting. Members and guests gathered at El Chaparral Grill over enchiladas and rice to listen to two men speak about a topic that seems to invoke harsh reactions in today’s society: the religion of Islam.
“Some media try to say that religions want to destroy one another,” said Imam Mohamed Fouad, a leader of the Islamic Society of Denton. “No, the main and essential thing is for every religion to complete each other. Islam comes to complete, to establish, to build and to be together as humans in this earth.”
Fouad and the Rev. Craig Hunter, pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church, came together to talk about the 1,400-year-old religion and its practice in modern day.
“One of my convictions is that as long as there is some distant other, and it can be those rich people, those poor people, those Muslim people, those atheist people, it becomes ripe ground for ignorance and fear,” Hunter said. “I think we’re seeing that today around Muslim people.”
In this post-9/11 world, many have grown to fear Muslims. Some politicians have called for a ban on Muslims entering America while some vigilantes take matters into their own hands by shooting Muslims in their mosques.
Most recently, the issue reared its head in Denton when a University of North Texas student was named as an Islamic militant in documents given to NBC.
“I know you may have questions about what’s going on in Iraq and Syria,” Fouad said. “It’s an international gambling table there and all of them in the end will be the losers. To lose your land, to lose your money, to lose your home, to lose your face, it’s an immoral war. I just want you to know that the first people affected by ISIS or al-Qaida are the Muslim community.”
Hunter said he has worked to build a partnership with Fouad and the Islamic Society in Denton through monthly meetings and interfaith worship services. He said other Christians should do the same to help quell hatred in their community.
“I think we need to know more about other religions but even more than knowledge, what we really need is a relationship,” Hunter said. “It’s the relationships that break down those walls more than anything else. It’s those friendships that are lights in the darkness.”
Q&A with Fouad
The Denton Record-Chronicle sat down with Fouad after the presentation to ask a few questions about the local Muslim community.
How big is the Muslim community in Denton?
It started in 1970 when students came to UNT to study. Muslims, wherever they are, practice their religion so they used to pray together in a group or individually. Then, they started to come to a house on Fridays for essential prayer. Fridays, like Sundays, are for group prayer. It’s not supposed to be individual.
Then, they started to think, “Why don’t we build a mosque in Texas?” They started raising money and they bought land to build the mosque.
This is the first mosque, built as a mosque, in the state of Texas. Before, many Muslims would take a rental place or a house to pray in.
When they built the mosque, they made it a centre for the community. Muslims would come and meet together. From that, the Muslim community started and there are now between 1,500 and 2,000 here.
Not all of them practice Islam, but they still come to the mosque because it’s a community centre. It is a place that will answer any questions about Islam.
Do you feel safe as a Muslim in Denton?
Some people misunderstand things. For example, I didn’t see anything wrong with my time here in Denton, but when my daughters grew up and started to wear Hijabs, sometimes they saw faces or felt discrimination, which are minor things. Many people just don’t understand others or other religions.
Generally, Denton is a very great, very safe community. We enjoy that we are a Muslim community within another community.
This is my mission to focus on. We are American, part of the American community. If anything negative happened to America, it will affect us. If anything good happens, it will affect us.
For the Muslims in America, there is no place to go but America. This is their land and this is their place, even if they have a different face or call for the oneness of God.
For example, my daughter was born here. She is an American and she’s never visited Egypt [Fouad’s home country]. She knows nothing about Egypt, and when I tell her something about Egypt, she doesn’t understand. It’s not right if she goes somewhere and someone says, “Hey, you’re from Egypt. Go back to Egypt.” She doesn’t know Egypt.
I’d like to generalize this by saying the Muslim communities are part of America. There’s nowhere to go but here, and they are lucky for that.
Do you feel like you have to defend yourself anytime something bad happens with Muslim people?
When anything bad happens with the Muslims, especially here in Texas, I’ll immediately receive contact from pastors and our friends with the Christian church. They say, “We are with you. We don’t want anything to happen to you. You are a part of us.”
A few months ago, something happened around some mosques in Dallas. When some members of the church heard about it, they told me, “If anything happens like that, call us immediately!” Not only that, but some churches came during our Friday prayer to show that they are with us.
This is the kind of support we find from our religious leaders. It gives us great peace and hope.
What are some common misconceptions people have about Islam?
There is something which is common between me and you, even if we have different DNA. We’re still brothers and sisters, human. That is the basic thing that is good to mention.
All the people who are killing in Syria, Iraq and Palestine, they’re at an international gambling table, something that’s immoral and unethical. Everyone wants to get their benefit while there are hundreds and thousands of children and women they have killed.
Nowadays, all of what we focus on is that we are human. It’s a right for anyone. We can argue about the face, about tradition, about culture, but we cannot argue about the rights of humans, the right of life. To have life is a basic right. All of us have to help each other.
If you go a little bit further up, you’ll see that Islam believes in the oneness of God. This is an essential thing that differentiates between Muslims and non-Muslims. We believe in the oneness of God, that he is law and that he created religions.
All of those who believe or don’t believe are servants of God. They are children of God. For example, when someone says they don’t want Allah in America, who is Allah? Allah is just another name for God.
Our faith is still active and it cannot be separate from the state. All of them are together. It is all a servant of God. Based on this, you see Islam is active everywhere, even sometimes on the wrong side. Islam is not frozen. Muslims want Islam and if they don’t get their right, they’ll look for it in the wrong way, like what’s going on with Syria.
If you don’t give them their freedom, their medicine, their life, their democracy, they will look for it in a different way. It’s something necessary to survive. If you give it to them in the right way, everything will be fine. If you don’t, they will look for it in a different way and it will be a problem.
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