Program attempts to help public understand Islam

With the growth of the Islamic religion in not only the country but the world, the James V. Brown Library held “Understanding Islam” Thursday night to give participants an in-depth look at what exactly the religion believes and how it has grown.

Historian and retired Col. John Maietta, who served tours in northern Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq, discussed the world’s second-largest religion behind Christianity.

Maietta, who is not a Muslim himself, explained that he believes it is important to understand all religions and cultures because Americans continue to live in a diverse community.

“Because of customs of dress, Muslims are visible in a way that other religions aren’t, and I think that makes people anxious. I hope to give people, not so much a comfortable feeling, but an understanding of other beliefs,” he said after the two-part presentation, which will continue Oct. 17.

When speaking with the group on the importance of understanding all beliefs, he said: “It’s important to understand. It’s part of the fabric of human history.”

While explaining the beliefs and history of Islam, Maietta told the audience that there is overlap between Islam and other religions.

Maietta explained that Muhammad, who is believed to be the last prophet of God, began the religion after receiving revelations from the angel Gabriel. The Quran also speaks about Jesus, Mary and other prophets. Maietta did mention that although Jesus is mentioned in the Muslim faith, he is not seen as divine.

The God that Islam worships is seen as the same one in the Christian and Jewish faiths, Maietta said.

“Religion traditions are fluid,” he said. “They bend and merge.”

After Muhammad’s death in 632, four caliphs, or religious leaders, took over the religion. Maietta explained that through expansion, between the years 700 and 1,200, several divisions of Islam were formed.

Sunnis is the type of Islam that a majority of Muslims follow, Maietta said. Shi’ites believe that the 12th Imam, or direct descendant of Muhammad, will one day return.

During that same time period, the Islamic faith went through a “phenomenally fast expansion,” which took it from current day Pakistan to Spain.

At the conclusion of the presentation, Maietta explained that Muslims are a growing part of the country and it’s important to learn about their culture and beliefs.

When asked what he wanted the audience to take away from the program, Maietta said that the public should understand that Islamic worshippers come to the U.S. for the same reasons now that people have been for centuries.

“We owe it to them to understand their core beliefs,” he said.