UCF's Global Perspectives Office set out to debunk a stereotype last week, hoping to shed light on the Islamic nation and its culture. "In spite of what has been happening in the Muslim world in the past many decades, there is still this impression of Islam being an inherently violent and intolerant religion," said Amitabh Pal, managing editor of The Progressive.
On Thursday, Feb. 23, the Global Perspectives Office held a public forum in the Student Union where Pal spoke about his book, Islam Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today. The event was free and open to the public. Attendees were also given the opportunity to ask questions toward the end of the discussion.
UCF's Global Perspectives Office was established in 2001 and is designed to help develop UCF's international resources, capabilities and connections. Over the last 10 years, they have hosted 245 distinguished visitors and 107 panels, symposiums and conferences, providing a range of topics that are related to global issues, said Jes Gagnon, Global Perspectives Public Affairs coordinator. "Pal seeks to rebut many misconceptions about Islam by detailing its tradition of nonviolence," Gagnon said. "He chooses to incorporate modern Muslim societies in his analysis by spotlighting recent peaceful protest movements."
As the managing editor of The Progressive, Pal has interviewed many well-known people such as the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter and John Kenneth Galbraith. When looking at Pal's book, he says that people sometimes even quiver at the title itself. His book is to show people that there is another side to Islam that they do not know, he said.
"I felt it was my duty to write this book," Pal said.
Pal began speaking about the aftermath of Sept. 11 and how it changed a lot of people's views of the religion and the people associated with it. Something that brought South Asia together in a strange and horrible way were the murders committed by Mark Stroman. Stroman wanted to avenge the attacks of Sept. 11 and killed two and injured another. After being sentenced, Stroman suddenly had a change of heart right before being executed.
"But there is a silver lining, Mark Stroman in the end came to realize something," Pal said. "He said, ‘My clemency plea was spearheaded by one very remarkable man named Rais Bhuiyan, who is a survivor of my hate. His deep Islamic beliefs gave me the strength to forgive the unforgivable and that is truly inspiring to me.'"
The Quran is the religious text of Islam, and Muslims consider it to be the word of God. Pal said a lot of people think of the Quran as being an inherently violent book that contains a message of hate and intolerance. There are specific passages in the Quran that has its followers of Islam enjoy peace, nonviolence, forgiveness and compassion. These terms are used the most in the Quran, Pal said.
"A mistaken stereotype that people think is that Islam is people who literally have a sword at other people's necks and say, ‘Convert or die,'" Pal said. Pal said they never forced people to convert to Islam. It was a slow process that happened over a period of time. In many instances, people were invited in. Islamic culture started to absorb surrounding cultures to become accepted, he said.
"As a convert to Islam, I understand both sides a lot, and I know a lot of people have a bad perspective of Islam, and I wanted to see what he had to say to convince non-Muslims that Islam does mean peace," said Alexandra Cusick, a junior humanities major.
The biggest changes that have come of the Islamic culture have been the different movements and protests, Pal said. The people, not the ones in power, have brought these on and in a lot of cases it has worked.
"At least two countries, Egypt and Indonesia, have had largely nonviolent mass movements that have succeeded in ousting longstanding dictators of 20 to 30 years," Pal said. "That has been absolutely remarkable to me."
Pal said that people cannot be impatient when going about these protests and movements. It took Gandhi 30-plus years to for independence on India, and it took Martin Luther King Jr. a decade for the civil rights movement, Pal said.
"I have known Muslims all throughout my life and I think it is kind of ridiculous to think of all Muslims to be inherently violent," Pal said. "In the aftermath of Sept. 11, I wanted to expand on this and the tradition of nonviolence."