Misconceptions about Islam were tackled head-on.
About 113 people attended a Saturday information session hosted by the Vernon Muslim Association partly as a result of recent mosque killings in Quebec and violence around the world.
“It’s incumbent on every person, and especially Muslims, to stand up and speak out,” said Muhammad William Saleh, who led the discussion.
And Saleh’s first target was the Islamic State, which has created upheaval in Iraq and Syria.
“It couldn’t be anything further from an Islamic state,” he said of the terrorist group.
“This is nothing more than a power grab.”
Some tension arose quickly as a woman took issue with Saleh’s interpretation of British and French colonialism and the impact globally.
“I can’t listen to this. What about the Ottoman Empire?” she said.
As she left the building, Saleh explained that oppression by European and American powers over the years, including propping up dictatorships, has shaped the perspective of individuals in those nations.
“They haven’t seen the good the west has brought to the world. If we are to speak about terrorism, we have to talk about why,” he said.
While some politicians, the media and religious leaders will point to passages of the Qur’an to describe all of Islam, Saleh says that isn’t wise.
“Context is huge. You can’t understand anything without context. A lot of verses are specific to events that happened to Muhammad,” he said.
“The people who are the problem are Muslims without intelligence. They have no understanding of their own religion. If we don’t speak out against these people, what good am I?”
Saleh insists that violence is not part of Islam.
“If the end goal is to have all of you become Muslim, will I achieve that by blowing up your kids? No. If violence is to spread our religion, what kind of religion is that to follow?”
Saleh also touched on the role of women and he says women covering up depends more on the culture of specific countries than it does with Islam itself.
“I have a highly educated wife. I’ve never asked her to cover her head. It’s a choice she’s made,” he said.
Some of Saleh’s comments were challenged and comparisons were made to Christianity.
“If a lot of North American converts to Islam don’t understand what it means, it’s open to interpretation,” said a woman.
However, another person in the audience countered that, “We’re here to learn how to move forward and not to debate what is best, the Qur’an or the Bible.”
A man in the crowd also presented his views.
“This is not a Christian country, this is a secular country. If you look at churches on Sunday, most people are not there,” he said.
Saleh insists that Islam’s roots include the new and old testaments of the Bible and Jesus Christ and Moses are considered important.
“But we believe the Qur’an is the last of those books,” he said.
For Saleh, the key to Saturday’s event was to bring people together and to start a conversation.
“We should never take what the media tells us. We should do our own research and get our own facts,” he said.