Last night Sheikh Ismail Nur, Imam of the Masjid al Iman Mosque in Victoria, gave a moving and charismatic address to a gathering at St. Philip Anglican Church in Oak Bay.

Ismail came to Victoria in 2015. He has a wife and four children.

He began by acknowledging that people are often struck by his youth. Then went on to introduce Islam in the most winsome manner possible. He said:

Islam as a religion is very misunderstood by both non-Muslims and also by Muslims themselves. There is a line between religion and culture which often becomes blurred, especially for Muslims. So Muslims may do thing assuming the are part of their religion when in fact that are part of a particular culture.

For example, when people hear of forced marriages they assume this is about young women being forced into marriage in a Muslim country as part of their religious belief. But Islam clearly says that no woman is ever allowed to be married against her will. For a marriage to be valid in Islam the woman must give her consent. Any marriage into which a woman is forced is not a legitimate marriage according to Islam.

Islam is a religion of peace and understanding. If Islam really preached violence, the world would be a very different place than the one we live in today. There are close to 2 billion Muslims living peaceably throughout the world. If the Muslim religion really incited violence the world would be very different than we experience it today.

How do we explain the fact that followers of Islam seem to be doing something other than peace? Imagine someone is driving a car and they have been drinking and get into an accident. Logically, blame lies with the driver; we do not blame the car. Religion is a vehicle whether Muslim or Christian.

The major world religions share a common set of values. They all aim to make you the best human being you can be.

Not everyone who ascribes to a particular religion is necessarily a true follower of that religion.

Muhammad Ali was once asked in an interview: “How does it make you feel to share the same religion as someone like Osama Bin Laden?” He answered: “How does it make you feel to share the same religion as someone like Hitler?”

Evil does not belong to a particular race, ideology, or teaching. You will  find people who teach evil using various different disguises. If people want to reach a certain goal, they’ll use whatever means they can.

Human beings fear the unknown. When we are very young we fear the dark. When someone seems strange to us, or looks different, or has different customs than we are familiar with, it is natural for us to be fearful of them. When we don’t know someone, we are naturally cautious.

There are Five Pillars, or simple foundations of what Muslims believe and practice:

1. Belief – Muslims believe in one God and all previous prophets and messengers. Muslims believe in Jesus Christ, peace be upon him. We believe he was a prophet of God, a messenger, but not the Son of God.

2. Prayer – Muslims pray five times a day. If you are used to praying you don’t view it as a burden or a hardship.

3. Charity – It is a fundamental aspect of our religion that every person who has been blessed with wealth needs to share that wealth with those less fortunate. As a base we give 2.5% of our earnings to charity.

4. Fasting – Muslims fast in the month of Ramadan. We abstain from eating and drinking and intimacy from sunrise to sunset. This helps establish our sense of spiritual connection. It also makes a person humble and compassionate. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to give charity and they are moved to do so more generously because they have experienced what it is like to be hungry and thirsty.

5. The Haj (Pilgrimage) – Muslims are encouraged at least once in their lifetime to make at least one journey to Mecca. Gathering people from all over the world in one place helps emphasize that human beings are one.

When Malcolm X converted to Islam he was taught that the white man is the devil. But then he went to Mecca and saw the white man from Europe, and the black man from Africa, and Muslims from Asian all engaging in the same spiritual practices and disciplines, and he came to a better understanding of the universal nature of Islam.