Maisha Godare took some pointed questions Thursday, April 12 as she gave an overview of American Muslim life for an audience at the North Platte Library.
From Omaha, Godare is the president of the Heartland Muslim Women’s Network. She coordinates the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Nebraska.
Speaking in a packed meeting room, Godare said there is a lot of mistrust and misunderstanding of Islam. She hoped her “Getting to Know American Muslims and Their Faith,” presentation would help explain Muslim life and culture in America.
According to a 2015 YouGov poll, only 21% of Americans have a favorable view of Islam, while 55% have an unfavorable view and the remainder is undecided.
“I will discuss who we are,” she told the audience at the outset, “and talk about prominent Muslims in America and throughout the world, our beliefs and practices and misconceptions about our religion.”
“Some people refer to us as Islamic, but that is not the proper term,” she said. “Islamic refers to something that is material, a book, a dress or so forth. We are referred to as Muslims. It doesn’t matter what race, nationality or language, there are Muslims in every part of the world.”
She said that the religion came to America with the 20% of enslaved Africans who were Muslins and it begin to increase in 1875, when more Muslims immigrated to America for various reasons.
Since 1965, Muslim students from around the world have settled in America and at the same time, many African-Americans rediscovered Islam.
“Today American Muslims are physicians, engineers, lawyers, scientists, teachers, athletes and entertainers,” Godare said.
While speaking, she handed out American Muslim magazines for the audience to see.
Muslims practice their religion in many different ways, she said.
“It is not supposed to be determined by the culture they are living in, but many times it is,” she said.
She said when it comes to making choices, Muslims are instructed to choose their religion over cultural practices.
Muslims believe in one God.
“Allah is the same God that is called Jehovah or Elohim in the Bible. We believe there is only one God,” she said.
According to Godare, they do not believe Jesus was the Messiah, but recognize him as a prophet. Likewise, Mohammad is a prophet and Muslims believe an angel presented him with their holy book — the Quran. Muslims accept the Torah and Bible as holy books, but believe the Quran contains the final and accurate words of God.
She talked of the similarities of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions.
“All believe in treating others as they would like to be treated, all believe in heaven and hell and in one God,” she said. “All are Abrahamic religions, united by a common heritage and originated in the Middle East.””
When asked, she said she didn’t discuss ISIS because she does not believe they are true Muslims.
“They (ISIS) are less than 1% of us and live by a misinterpretation of the Quran,” she said.
She said Muslims encourage moderation in all aspects of life, forbid terrorism under any circumstance and even during war, have strict rules that protect civilians.
When finished, she opened the session to questions. It soon became apparent that some in the audience did not believe her assessment that Islam is a religion of peace.
A man stood and asked if Muslims are commanded to kill anyone not of their belief, quoting the Quran. Godare said he was taking it out of context.
“Infidels are not Jews or Christians,” she said. “They are those that do not believe in God at all.”
A lady asked about prophets common to all three religions.
“Do you think when the prophets in the Bible wrote of a coming messiah, they were referring to Jesus?” she asked.
Godare said Muslims believe that was a reference to Mohammad.
“I am not Bible scholar but I don’t believe that,” the lady responded.
Another woman in the audience said she was a Bible scholar and a minister.
“Most Bible scholars don’t think the prophets were talking about Jesus or Mohammad,” she said, “but were just hoping for someone to come who would bring better days during their time.”
One man asked if the Muslims followed the teaching of the Quran.
“Those that practice their religion do,” Godare said.
She said Islam is like any other religion that way.
“There are Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims that follow their beliefs, and some that don’t,” she said.
The man said the Quran has a lot of scriptures that totally disagree with Christianity. “Do you understand those?” he asked.
“I have never heard of them,” she said.
“You must not have read it then,” he replied.
Godare said she has read the Quran many times and asked him to show her some scripture that he was talking about.
“It says to cut off the heads of all non-Muslims,” he paraphrased.
She said that was talking about war, to fight and kill everyone that fights against them.
She reminded everyone that throughout history, most religions have committed atrocities against mankind, and that in the middle ages during the Crusades, Christians burned babies alive.
The discussions became more heated as the audience questioned her more about ISIS and its treatment of Christian and other non-believers.
She said terrorist organizations that claim to be Muslims were less than 1% of the entire worldwide Islamic population.
Why then, she was asked, don’t the 99% stand up and condemn the terrorist organizations?
“I knew that would be asked and I want you to know we do, all over the world, but the media refuses to report it,” she said.
It became clear that neither side would compromise their beliefs in the discussion.
Finally, a lady in the audience said she was glad to learn more about American Muslims and thanked her for coming.
One man said that he feared for his life because he, a non-Muslim, owns a copy of the Quran.
“I am certain they would like to kill me for having it,” he said.
Another woman had this to say — “It is great that she is explaining what they say they believe, but with what is happening all over the world, with the beheadings, throwing Christians and other non-Muslims in jail, they will never get the trust and support of the American people. The Muslims here and all over the world that disagree with ISIS are doing very little to stop it. In third world countries, they know they would be killed if they speak out.”
Godare was born and raised in St. Louis Missouri and ran a small business in Omaha until she retired. She has been with the Omaha Islamic bureau for over 20 years.
She said her group speaks to junior high and high school social studies classes when they are learning about different religions.
“The teachers usually don’t feel comfortable talking about Islamic religions because they don’t know much about it, so they call us,” she said.
Godare ended the meeting with the words “As-salam alaikum” which means “Peace be upon you.”