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Prayers and misunderstandings

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On Thu., Sept. 21, a multi-faith prayer meeting for peace went awry.

Religious Studies Department Head Eliezer Segal commented on his reaction to events which transpired at the memorial for the Sept. 11 tragedy, which was shared by others attending.

"For hours after the service, I was trembling with shock and disbelief," he said.

The memorial was an inter-faith tribute to victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy in the United States. It was organized by the Chaplains Center and was meant to be a chance for campus representatives to express sentiments of peace, forgiveness and community. A student, claiming to represent the Muslim Students' Association and the Muslim community at the University of Calgary delivered an interpretation of a Koran passage.

"What Waleed [Zlitini, the speaker] said offended a lot of people," explained MSA President Adel Gamar. "The reaction from these people is my concern, and it hasn't been positive."

In his reading, Zlitini declared: "Islam stands for the oppressed and will stand against the oppressors, no matter who they are."

Those who attended the service described his delivery as aggressive and forceful.

Zlitini resigned from the MSA executive on Mon., Sept. 24.

Gamar made it clear that Zlitini's actions were not condoned by the MSA.

"We had our own reasons to not accept what happened," he said. "No one speaks on behalf of the club unless it's cleared by the executive. It wasn't cleared by us.What he said is not the standpoint of Islam and Muslims; bombing innocent people is a vigilante [act of] murder, not martyrdom. He did not speak on our behalf."

Zlitini, and Renada Muminhodzic, who wrote the interpretation, claimed their intent was not to intimidate students and staff at the service.

"We came up there to give our support and our sympathy to the victims," said Muminhodzic. "If we thought there would be room for misinterpretation, we wouldn't have said it."

Zlitini emphasized that his comments were made in the context of the U.S. terrorist attacks.

"This is what the introduction said, the purpose behind this service," he said. "We, as Muslims, stay with the oppressed people, whoever they are, and against the oppressors, whoever they might be. We are talking about the U.S. and in this sense, oppressed means the innocent people. Oppressor means the terrorists."

Zlitini was recruited by the Chaplains Centre at the last minute to assure Muslim representation at the memorial. Gamar explained that the MSA had declined an earlier invitation to provide a speaker, leaving the choice to attend up to the individual members of the MSA. The chaplains have issued a collective statement and refuse further comment.

"We have a pastoral concern for the people involved," said Reverend Tim Nethercott.

MSA has issued a public statement of formal apology to students and staff.

"This was meant to be a time of healing," said U of C Vice-President Student Affairs Peggy Patterson. "I commend the Muslim community for taking the step to issue a public apology and maybe now the healing can begin and [we can] engage in a healthy dialogue."

"Islam is a religion of peace and the majority of Muslims condemn this terrorist act," said Gamar.

"Muslims in North America are trying to show people the majority of the Muslim community do not share the views of the extremists," said Religious Studies Professor Anne Moore. "The lesson we need to learn here is to be critical enough [of what you hear] to find out what is really going on and not let one incident determine your view of Islam."

Moore will mediate a religious dialogue on Oct. 3, which is co-sponsored by the Students' Union and the Religious Clubs on campus.

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