There are sessions like this one all over the country all the time: a kindly Muslim goes to a church and dispels the “misconceptions” about Islam held by the assembled Christians, explaining to them that contrary to appearances (which are fabricated by the “Islamophobic” mainstream media, doncha know), Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance that respects women’s rights. The eternal question: does Robert Azzi or any of the other Muslims like him ever go to mosques and dispel “misconceptions” about Islam there? After all, there have been Muslims from the U.S. who have gone to join the Islamic State, and other Muslims who support it while staying here. What is Robert Azzi doing, and what are others like him doing, to dispel their “misconceptions” about Islam? It is all very well for the members of All Saints’ Episcopal Church to go away with their “misconceptions” corrected, but if by some mischance any of the attendees still cling to those “misconceptions,” no harm will be done. However, if young Muslims hold what Azzi would doubtless term “misconceptions” about Islam, people could get killed. Wouldn’t it be wiser for him, therefore, to spend his time speaking to young Muslims rather than Episcopalians? Unless, of course, his agenda is actually something different from the stated one.
“‘Ask a Muslim Anything’ forum held in Peterborough,” by Meghan Pierce, New Hampshire Union Leader, February 28, 2016:
PETERBOROUGH — Arab American Muslim Robert Azzi answered questions for close to two hours at an event dubbed “Ask a Muslim Anything” in Peterborough on Sunday afternoon.
About 100 people attended the forum held at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Reynolds Hall, on Concord Street.
Azzi is a photojournalist and columnist based in Exeter. He has spent several decades working in and writing about the Middle East. A few years ago, Azzi began writing and speaking about Islam to dispel misconceptions about his faith and to create understanding.
A longtime friend of his, the Rev. Jamie Hamilton from All Saints’ Episcopal Church, moderated the discussion.
“I went to him when I was trying to understand Islam and he gave me some great books to read,” Hamilton said….
Let me guess: John Esposito. Karen Armstrong. Reza Aslan.
“It’s obviously a need. People want to come. We had about 100 people at Mariposa the night before, too. He did a history of Muslim Americans and then followed it up with some questions,” she said.
On Sunday, one woman asked Azzi about the oppression of woman in Muslim countries, and if that comes from the religion of Islam.
“There is only two verses in the Quran that deal with a woman’s attire, or a person’s attire,” he said.
The first deals only with the wives of the Prophet, he said. The second deals with modesty, but is directed toward both men and women.
“How do you define modesty? It is going to just above the cleavage to the knees. And that was incumbent upon both men and woman. So you didn’t get to show your six-pack,” he said, getting a laugh out of the crowd.
Over the centuries, however, coming to a peak in the 14th century, the scriptures were primarily interpreted by men.
“One of the things that we have to understand about that is that it was only men interpreting scripture for men,” he said.
And more often than not, these men interpreted scripture in a way that reinforced patriarchal power in their society.
Azzi said he would argue that the poor treatment of women comes from tradition and not from theology.
But not all Muslim countries are like that, he added.
“There are Muslim-majority countries where women have been prime minister. There are women-majority countries where woman are Airforce combat pilots, which took us a long time to get to in this country.”
Most Muslim countries have only become independent following World War II, he said, adding that Western expectations are unrealistic.
“Think about how long it took us from 1776 to give women the vote,” he said.
Note that the question was “the oppression of woman in Muslim countries, and if that comes from the religion of Islam.” If this report is accurate, all he spoke about in response was veiling. He doesn’t appear to have mentioned these aspects of the Qur’an:
The Qur’an likens a woman to a field (tilth), to be used by a man as he wills: “Your women are a tilth for you to cultivate, so go to your tilth as you will” (2:223).
It declares that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man: “Get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as you choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her” (2:282).
It allows men to marry up to four wives, and have sex with slave girls also: “If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly, then only one, or a captive that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice” (4:3).
It rules that a son’s inheritance should be twice the size of that of a daughter: “Allah directs you as regards your children’s inheritance: to the male, a portion equal to that of two females” (4:11).
Worst of all, the Qur’an tells husbands to beat their disobedient wives: “Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property. So good women are obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah has guarded. As for those from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them” (4:34).
It allows for marriage to pre-pubescent girls, stipulating that Islamic divorce procedures “shall apply to those who have not yet menstruated” (65:4).
Another woman asked him why U.S. Muslim leaders don’t speak out against terrorism.
“Why are they so quiet and why don’t they want to help heal the wounds that have been created in our country through various attacks in the name of Islam? And obviously it’s not everybody’s Islam, but I’ve driven through what I consider to be a lily-white community outside Boston and I’ve seen ‘Black Lives Matter,’” she said.
Azzi said there are regular and daily condemnations of violence.
“There is a narrative in this country — and this is where I mourn the loss of Al Jazeera — because you would see this is a narrative unique to America that denies the voice to a lot of these communities,” he said.
Along with the media blackout, many Muslims are afraid to identify themselves in the face of a terrorist act, saying there are only 2,000 Muslims in New Hampshire.
The idea that the mainstream media ignores moderate Muslims is absurd. The mainstream media is avid for moderate Muslims. Condemnations of terrorism are routinely noted. The question is, why don’t we ever see Muslims who condemn terrorism moving beyond words to action? Where are the programs teaching Muslims to reject the understandings of Islam proffered by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State?
Azzi also fielded questions about ISIS and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. On ISIS, he said, former captives of the group say ISIS members don’t read the Quran or prayer, ever. And he said the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a political issue not religious, though some have tried to make it religious.
Azzi said he knows not everyone is going to like his answers.
“I think when people are talking to each rather than shooting or throwing stones at each other, it’s always a step forward,” Azzi said after the event….
I’m all for that, and would be happy to have a public discussion or debate with Robert Azzi anytime, in a forum of his own choosing, to which I would travel at my own expense. We could discuss whether or not the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah contain incitement to violence. Mr. Azzi, I can be reached at director[at]jihadwatch.org.