„Islam is not the religion of terror” – interview with Ayman ALmomani

As for the baseline: we have a religious Erasmus student from Jordan, surrounded by atheist Hungarians and non-Muslim foreigners, and the aim of this interview is to have a better in-depth look into the Islamic religion, which is quite an up-to-date and delicate issue all around Europe nowadays. Ayman ALmomani is a Muslim guy, who is studying English in the MA program at the University of Pécs. He studied theology earlier and he is interested in psychology as well. With this background knowledge he tries to shed light on the real face of Islam and how the European life is going from a Muslim point of view. We talked about prejudices, religion and a few key concepts regarding Islam in general.
 
Pécsibölcsész: How would you define the Islamic religion?
 
Ayman ALmomani: Islam is an Abrahamic religion, which means we have a holy book, that is the holy Quran, just like in Christianity or Judaism. Islam came with the idea that all Abrahamic religions usually come with which is belief in one God (Allah), who sends his prophets to govern and guide us. This is the point where Christianity and Islam diverge because we believe Jesus is a prophet but no son of God – representative of God yes, but not the son of God – we believe that he didn’t get to the platform where he was crucified, the Quran says that God saved him moments before the crucifixion happened. We believe in angels and in the holy books. It means that as a Muslim I believe in the Bible and I believe in all the holy scripts from God. You can have this Quran and look at it as the edited version of thousands of years of religion and you can find almost identical teachings in all the Abrahamic books, after all they are the words of God. In other words, there was an evolution of the human belief in God. It started thousands of years ago and it ended with Islam in the seventh century.
 
PB: How does Islam work in practice?
 
AA: There are five pillars of Islam, which are the ways that we use to manifest our devotion to God. The first one is faith, which means the belief that there is one God and one God only, this also means that we believe that God has no sons, God is the beginning and the end, he is the infinity itself.
Then we have praying – we pray five times a day since we reached the age of twelve. From seven to twelve years is the period when you teach your kid to pray and once it becomes a habit it sticks. It comes as no surprise that Islam uses repetition, all religions do. The second stage of this teaching process is the awareness of the notion of God, then the kid will have faith, so these two pillars are connected.
The third thing is charity. In the Islamic religion God might take back what he gave you for not helping the poor, and charity becomes a duty if you have unused money in a bank or hidden after eleven months.The fourth element is fasting. For us it basically means not eating and drinking anything at all from sunrise to sunset for one month every year. This whole fasting comes from the fact that we have to feel for the poor who go to sleep hungry every day, and the way to feel for them actually implies not having anything to drink or eat. And in that way once you finish the fasting, you truly thank God for all the blessings he bestowed upon you. The last pillar is the pilgrimage to Mecca. It’s the center of our religion, that’s why when we pray we turn in the direction of Mecca but pilgrimage to holy Mecca isn’t a must, according to the Quran we only have to do it if we are physically and financially able.

 
PB: To what extent does the religion determine the way people live in your country?
 
AA: Living in a Muslim country doesn’t cause any bad social stigmas, I just need to follow the same guidelines everyone else follows. The whole life is heavily influenced by Islam. We have a lot of mosques, people are religious, there is no drinking, no bars, no prostitution – not in public places at least – and no pigs because we don’t eat pork. Not having these things makes it easy to be religious. I mean personally my faith was never tested till I reached Hungary. One question we get a lot is why don’t you drink? Simply put, when you drink alcohol, you harm your body, for example your liver but most importantly you are not aware of what you do and you can harm people, and you are not aware of God either so it means less time fulfilling your role on earth. Islam prevents you from harming your own body as well when it comes to pork, that’s why eating it isn’t allowed because in Islam we believe the pig is filthy and might cause more harm than good even if cooked.
 
PB: What are the most beneficial effects of Islam or being really religious at all?
 
AA: Believing in God gives you an aspect of safety because God takes care of you. Being Muslim and being a religious person means I maintain a connection with God and in the meantime I try not to do anything sinful that was mentioned in the Quran which is basically that I try my best not to be a bad person. It is almost like there is a blacklist of evil deeds you can’t do and there is the rest, the white list of things you can do. As long as you stay away from the black things, the sinful acts, you don’t contaminate the relationship with God, thus God will be super cool with you in the afterlife and on the judgement day you will be entitled to heaven. That is a hugely underrated sentence and a way to simplify a highly complex religion but since precise theological explanations aren’t the topic of the interview, the previous statement has to suffice for now. As for me being religious means I know I have somebody to worship, I know that I’m insignificant in this universe and I know I was created by God to worship God. These days people are facing the problem of not knowing why they exist, why they were born. I can reach some kind of tranquility because I know why I exist, where I fit in and where I belong.
 
PB: What are the negative, harmful effects of Islam, more precisely of the misunderstanding of Islam?
 
AA: Firstly, Islam is a concept, a guideline which shows how to be a good person, just like all religions. These laws are the basics of the Muslim belief. As for being a good person, we try not to lie but we all do it from time to time, we always try to be honest, we never cheat anyone, we never gossip. The true Islam is a peaceful religion, I don’t even have to convert you to Islam because the Quran says that if you aren’t a believer of Islam, it is your decision and it isn’t my duty as a follower to change it.
These days people can’t differentiate between Islam and Muslims. If you have been watching the news, you can see that a lot of things have been going on for the last twenty years that contaminated the picture of Islam as a religion of peace because of radical Muslims and their misinterpretation of Islam. Nowadays we have ISIS, we have al-Kaida, we have the Talibans. These radicals enjoy killing people and spilling blood in the name of God. The problem is that Islam is a thousand-years old and sometimes things get blurry, the lists of black and white things become gray and people venture into these gray areas commiting a lot of bad things while thinking they are the true representatives of Islam.
Secondly, we don’t have sex before marriage. We don’t have any contact with the girl before marriage. If I go on a date with a girl, I don’t have the right to touch her because her body is her own. The woman is pure, chaste, refined and modest and her body should be respected and not toyed with. That’s why we don’t have sex out of fun, unless there is a wedlock and it is no longer a sin in the eyes of God. There is an interesting question: wouldn’t that have undeveloped sexuality as a consequence? These days if you want to get married in an Arabic country, you have to pay a lot of money. Practically speaking you have to spend a lot of years single in order to gain the money needed for marriage, it’s true that it leaves you sexually deprived for many years. But make no mistake: late marriage is not about Islam, it’s about the community which developed Islam in its own way and the economic system, unless that is to blamed on Islam as well. 
 
PB: What do you think about the Islamic community here in Pécs?
 
AA: I found a small mosque here. There is another big one in the city center, which shows how the Hungarians tolerate our religion and Muslims here. We have a history together – I mean whether you like it or not, unfortunately Muslims who came to power throughout history influenced people to shed blood for them. Something which remained from these periods of history is this mosque. Now it’s a church and also a mosque so you can go in and see Muslims and Christians praying at the same time to the same God but in two different ways. It means different ways of showing how we are devoted to God, which is something extremely beautiful. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any Islamic community here yet. That is why I would love to create a Muslim community here. It would mean creating a good image of Islam, too. We have to show that radicals don’t represent us, Islam is not the religion of terror.