Daily Herald: Hanover Park discusses Islam at community forum

A meeting Saturday to learn about Islam is just the beginning of Hanover Park’s attempts to bring understanding to this portion of its diverse population, said Village President Rodney S. Craig.

“We are concerned when leaders who ought to know better say things that incite anger. We don’t want to be a part of that,” said Craig before Saturday’s event, “Who are my Muslim neighbors?”

He declined to name names, but U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh of the 8th Congressional District has recently made controversial statements about “radical Islam’s” roots in the suburbs, Craig said Stephanie Sarnoff, executive director of the Schaumburg Township District Library, has expressed interest in staging future programs.

After a presentation by Gerald Hankerson, outreach coordinator of CAIR Chicago, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, many in the crowd of about 70 asked questions.

The most confrontational came from John Zielinski of Des Plaines, who said after the meeting that he has a history degree.

“Who wants to be following the teachings of a warlord?” he asked Hankerson. Zielinski said the Prophet Muhammad killed 700 Jewish people in Medina.

Dr. Khalid Abdus Sami of Roselle said Muhammad never killed any Jews.

“The prophet said ‘You can kill those people who have not kept the Quran, but it is better that you forgive them,’” he said.

History in Turkey and Andalusia, now part of Spain, shows that Muslim-ruled countries can coexist with those of other religions, Hankerson said. “Islam respects all humans and faiths. Killing one person is like killing all humanity.”

Hankerson said he believed the anti-American violence in Libya and other countries over word of an obscure anti-Muslim film was “really truly a lack of communication.

“People in those countries do not understand what freedom of speech means to Americans. And people here do not understand what it means for Muslims to see such blasphemy toward Prophet Muhammad.”

Caitlin Ferguson of Hanover Park said it was important not to confuse Islam and the culture of certain countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Hankerson agreed.

“Questions about the history of women are similar to the question about forced conversions,” he said. “In certain countries like Saudi Arabia and when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, women must wear certain forms of dress and must obey their husbands. Most of these can be attributed to the history and culture.”

Most of the experience that Hankerson, who is a convert to Islam, has had with Muslims has been in the United States.

“Muslim women that I know here in the United States, some families encourage their daughters to wear a hijab (head scarf) and some strongly discourage it.”

Hanover Park Clerk Eira Corral called for dialogue and praised religious leaders for attending and “standing in solidarity against hate to learn from one another.”

She said Saturday was not a time to be politically correct and urged participants to ask questions that might be bothering them while showing respect for all speakers. Many participants submitted anonymous written questions.