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HBS Students Reach Out to Islamic Community

Before judgments are made, it’s best to know the facts. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, Muslims around the country have faced persecution from some Americans, who blame the religion as a whole for the tragedies. In an effort to learn more about Islam and to dispel those false notions, approximately 50 HBS students joined an equal number of members of the Islamic Society of Boston’s congregation on Wednesday night for a discussion of Islam’s beliefs as they relate to the recent attacks.

While education was one goal, the students also wanted to express support for their fellow Muslim students who have felt uncomfortable spending time off-campus by themselves. One of the organizers of the evening was Jeff Wald (OI), who said he felt he needed to act when his “friends
couldn’t go to pray.”

Dr. Walid Fitaihi, who is a medical doctor and instructor at Harvard Medical School, led the discussion. Andrea Useem, a recent graduate of Harvard Divinity School and a graduate of Dartmouth, joined him. Useem spoke of her conversion to Islam, even as she recognized a member of her college class in the audience, Mira Lee (OK).

The most important message of the evening was that Islam is a religion of peace. That those responsible for the terrorist acts on September 11, who based on current evidence believed they were committing the acts in the name of Islam, were wrong. Islam actually prohibits the killing of innocent people and sneak attacks. The concept of “jihad”, which is often falsely translated into English as “holy war,” actually means “struggle,” and only describes war under two circumstances: for self-defense and to “lift the oppression of any people, including the oppression of Christians and Jews,” Fataihi said.

As an American citizen, Fataihi continued, he has shared the incredible pain with the rest of the world since the day of the attack. He also said, though, that he views his role not “simply as a physician, but a healer,” and has made several attempts to reach out to the rest of the local community as a representative of the Islamic faith. “This is a healing time for us, as we bring Christians, Jews and Muslims together,” he said.

According to Fataihi there have been a number of anti-Muslim incidents in the Boston area since the attacks, including an alleged rape at Boston University, that have produced “a new level of fear” in the community. At the same time, Fitaihi said, “for every person who insults us, we have found three others who are looking out for us in the community.”
Students found the visit incredibly valuable. “I came to learn more about what I didn’t know,” Jim Smith (OH) said. “It’s good to know the truth about Islam, rather than learning about it second-hand from the media.”

October 1, 2001
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