Activist debunks common misconceptions of Islam

Nicole Drummer

Muslim activist and songwriter Dawud Wharnsby-Ali cautioned students Thursday night against thinking about various religions as distinct institutions and urged them to uncover the myths of Islam.

“There is this illusion of the mysterious faith from ‘over there,’ where all women wear shawls and the men look really aggressive,” Wharnsby-Ali told about 70 students at the last Islamic Awareness Week event in Harris 107. “What we see in the media is an illusion. I have complete confidence that people who are educated, possess sounds minds and all five senses will be able to see this.”

Born a Christian in southern Ontario, Canada, Wharnsby-Ali changed his name and converted to Islam in 1993. After teaching himself to play music at small clubs, coffeehouses and folk festivals, he became torn between the competitive world of music and his inner quest for peace.

He temporarily suspended his musical activity to educate children by increasing their spiritual knowledge. His album, “A Whisper of Peace,” is a compilation of spiritual songs for children.

Wharnsby-Ali began his discussion of popular illusions about Islam by reflecting on the meaning of the word “Islam.” He said the literal translation from Arabic is “to enter into a state of peace.” He criticized the idea of belonging to a religious institution, saying people should decide how to be spiritual for themselves.

“The reality is not about Islam the institution,” Wharnsby-Ali said. “It’s simply understanding that you can be at peace.”

People have many different illusions about how they can find peace, he said. Some believe they can find it through money, others through college degrees or relaxation.

He quoted the prophet Mohammed, who said that peace can be achieved only by people knowing who they are.

Wharnsby-Ali also said that one’s surroundings have a powerful effect on the quest for peace, and that people should seeks out environments that foster peace. He stressed the importance of nature, such as plants, the moon, and the sun: all products of the creator.

“There are so many unnatural things around us that we forget what is actually real,” he said.

He discussed the quest of many to find a universal truth or purpose in life. He said birth and death are two indisputable events that occur, and in between them lies the mystery, the interim stretch of life. Many famous artists like Vincent van Gogh, who lopped his ear off, and famed writers who committed suicide, went crazy trying to determine universal truth or purpose, Wharnsby-Ali said.

Knowing the purpose of life makes birth, death, and life much more easy to comprehend, he said.

“When you’re not at peace with yourself, you have a tough time dealing with interim life,” he said.

Wharnsby-Ali ended his lecture with an analogy of the three main Western religions -Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – as three separate boxes. He talked about elements that one might place into the box of Islam, such as praying, pilgrimage and charity. Such elements exist in the other religions too, so the inevitable question arises: In which box does God reside?

Wharnsby-Ali criticized the notion of being trapped inside such a box and ridiculed the idea of people saying that by converting, they have climbed into the box of Islam.

“The way things are presented on television is an illusion,” he said. “It’s an illusion that fame, money, and looks will produce success. We need to strip away the illusions that mess with our minds and go back to the essence of who we are and why we’re here.”

After four events of Islam Awareness Week, playing Islamic jeopardy at Norris University Center and drinking hot chocolate at the Rock with the Muslim-cultural Students Association, students said the week ended on a high note.