By ELIZABETH BRANTLEY
On Monday, Feb. 1, University of Mary Washington students and members of the Fredericksburg community flocked to the Chandler Ballroom in the University Center to participate in a lecture and discussion, “The Truth about Islam: Open Discussion on Terrorism, Human Rights, and Islam,” which featured guest speaker Imam Yahya Hendi.
Hendi served as the first ever Muslim Chaplain at Georgetown University and is the founder of the organization Clergy Beyond Borders. According to their website, the organization’s mission is “to empower religious leaders to explore and utilize the resources of their diverse religious traditions in the advancement of world peace.”
The Arab Culture Club and the Office of the Dean sponsored the event, which was created by the Islamic Student Association as a way to discuss misconceptions about Islam.
Hendi has given countless lectures across the United States, written numerous publications on various Islamic issues, met with several U.S. presidents and has done work both domestically and abroad in order to promote peace and understanding. He was recognized as one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in 2012 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre.
With such an immense list of accomplishments, it was perhaps to some a surprise and relief that Hendi began his talk with jokes.
“Yes, I will have an accent,” he said, grinning to the crowd. “I do, I promise you. You know why? Because I learned English in Texas.”
Once laughter died down, Hendi broke into a lecture on the basics of Islam and the similarities it has to other Abrahamic religions. His first lesson was one in language, in which he introduced the audience to an Islamic greeting, “Assalamu ‘Alaikum.” He compared this to the Jewish “Shalom” and the Christian “Peace be with you.” Further, he cited examples of similarities between prayer ceremonies and scripture between these religions in order to exemplify how alike we might be to people we know little about.
Later, Hendi discussed certain unique traits of Islam which have either been misunderstood or unknown to those outside the faith.According to Hendi, Islam encourages people to get to know, coordinate with and compete with other religions towards doing good and achieving peace in the world. Then, the four components of a human were introduced. Islam asserts that every human is made up of heart, mind, soul and flesh. In order to achieve peace and happiness, all four of these must be in balance and order.
“So when I think of ISIS, I think of people who are disrupted,” Hendi said, “who are altered internally in terms of their mind, their heart, their soul, and maybe their flesh.” His belief is that terrorist organizations use his religion in a way that twists the Qu’ran to suit their needs and that does not reflect the actual teachings of peace and goodness within the Qu’ran.
After a brief description of political events which have shaped views towards Islam in the past few decades, such as the Cold War and Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, Hendi took questions from the audience. One of particular interest came from someone who asked for advice for the youth of America in order to combat Islamophobia in our lives.
Hendi encouraged the audience to learn about other religions from within by attending services at synagogues and mosques. He also advocated for becoming involved in local social justice groups as well as engaging with policy makers at all levels. Above all, he could not stress enough the power of positivity. “Be positive,” he said over and over again, later reminding us “we’re all in this together.”
Afterwards, one audience member who requested to stay anonymous commented that Hendi was, “One of the best speakers I’ve seen at Mary Washington, and I’ve seen a few.”
Clara Doin, a junior studio art major, said, “I liked his emphasis on community. He made me feel like I should do more.”
To get more information about Hendi, visit imamyahyahendi.com.