Islamic program in Miami promotes tolerance and understanding

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SHAFAQNA - Believing in the power of education to combat prejudices and misunderstandings, an American professor at a Miami college is cooperating with a collation of Muslim organizations to show students similarities between the three Abrahamic faiths.

“I have an interest in letting my students know that other religions aren’t so different,” Randall Kaufman, the chairman of the humanities and social sciences department at Miami Dade College (MDC) Homestead Campus, told Miami Herald.

Teaching his students at MDC, Kaufman wanted them to understand that God equals Allah.

To reach this end, he decided to cooperate with the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations (COSMOS) to launch Islam Today, a year-long series focused on the faith.

“This is for non-Muslims to understand what a Muslim is,” said Kaufman, who believes that education is one of the strongest tools in combating prejudices and misunderstandings.

“I think most minority communities understand the majority, the concern for me is the tolerance on the other side.”

Focusing on similar roots of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the program will kick off on September 29 with a discussion about `Eid al-Adha, lead by Imam Zakaria Badat, who is the imam-at-large for COSMOS.

`Eid Al-Adha, or “Feast of Sacrifice”, is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations, together with `Eid Al-Fitr.

After special prayers to mark the day, Muslims offer unhiyah, a ritual that reminds of the great act of sacrifice Prophet Ibrahim and his son Isma`eel were willing to make for the sake of God.

“Surprise, surprise, it may be similar to the roots of Christianity and Judaism,” Kaufman said. “The roots are very similar.”

Kaufman says he often has students approach him with questions about the faith, the culture, and rituals.

Addressing the curiosity of those students, Islam Today will not only center around religious teachings, about also Islamic art, food and culture.

For example, on December 3, the program will be a choral presentation from the Florida Turkish American Association of Fort Lauderdale.

Building Understanding

The new series is planned to bring understanding of Islam in the community by working with interfaith groups.

“It’s really important for the Muslim community to let student in college understand what Islam is all about,” said Shabbir Motorwala, a board member for COSMOS, adding that he sometimes gets asked questions about certain Islamic stereotypes from those who aren’t familiar with the faith.

“They think all Muslims have camels and long breads.”

He hopes that Islam Today helps to dispel some of these stereotypes and open dialogue will help combat Islamophobia.

“[Some people] don’t have any idea that Muslims follow the same prophets as Christians and Jews do,” he said.

“We have to start telling the people what you see on TV by extremist groups doesn’t represent the true image of Islam.”

The effort by COSMOS, a non-profit group, is not the first to promote true understanding of Islam.

Earlier this year they entered a deal with Florida International University to establish the Center for Muslim World Studies.

Kaufman hopes that those who attend the series at his campus will leave knowing more about Islam, and have fun in the process.

“It’s a simple equation, God equals Allah,” said Kaufman.

“When people think that doesn’t equal each other, it makes ‘others.’”

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