story by Ben Pollock, special to The City Wire
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville honored the memory of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks Tuesday with a ceremony organized by Muslim students.
Sofia Naseem, president of UA's Al-Islam Students Association, began the 20-minute program at the Multicultural Center at the Arkansas Union by introducing her father, UA electrical engineering professor Hameed Naseem, who chanted verses from the Quran, which he called a "book of guidance followed by Muslims." Remarks made in rest of the program followed his scripture lesson.
The section that professor Naseem recited in Arabic, summarized then translated into English used the Hebrew Testament section on the slaying of Abel by Cain as its base.
“God almighty reminds people that right at the beginning of civilization, with the two sons of Adam, when one killed the other. God takes us back there, a full picture, that if that person was not killed," humanity now would be as it was then, he said.
By the Quran using the early Genesis tale, it proceeds the formation of Judaism then Christianity and Islam, which Naseem sees as intending a lesson for the world.
What Islam teaches here is, "How heinous is the crime of killing a single person. It is as though you have taken out the entire humanity," he said, then quoted the next verse, "Whosoever saves a life, it shall be as if he has given life to all of mankind."
Following Naseem, who is adviser to the student group, UA Chancellor G. David Gearhart noted that the verse on saving a life is reflected in this week's blood drive, also at the student union's Multicultural Center. "I found profound wisdom" in the lesson, Gearhart said.
On such key days such as the anniversary of 9/11, he said, people can respond in two directions. One is of "passive reflection" on the meaning of the day, spurred by ceremonies such as this, even if just seen on television.
“I hope that in the process of all of our reflections, that we resolve to act with peace and with unity and love in our hearts and in so doing we may each save humanity, one act at a time,” Gearhart said.
The other response is for 9/11 to serve a "call to action," to good deeds such as donating blood. Gearhart said the blood drive is part of a national effort (See more information at this website.), which in 2011 gathered more than 10,000 units of blood across the country, saving more than 30,000 lives.
The Community Blood Center of the Ozarks is conducting the three-day drive, ending Wednesday, Sept. 12. Its hours on the Fayetteville campus are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Gearhart had sharp words about the other responses to what he called the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil. He faulted placing responsibility "for 9/11 not with a handful of religious extremists but at the feet of an entire religion. ... Islam is a rich and longstanding religion."
"To blame the unthinkable acts of 9/11 on the religion practiced by 23 percent of the world's population is in itself a type of extremism fueled by illogical hatred," Gearhart said. "If the images of terror and tragedy have now been indelibly etched in our minds, so too have been the images of heroism and humanity."
A lesson of 9/11 and its aftermath, Gearhart said, is, "We learned that there is no way to fully brace for such devastating evil, but we also learned that the only rightful action to such unthinkable horror to is to face it, refuse its call to hatred, and heed what President Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature.
“We may not control all the tragedy that befalls us and our loved ones. We can refuse to let it define us. We can choose to commit ourselves to personal and collective
Ending the commemoration, Charles Robinson, UA vice provost for diversity affairs, led the three dozen in the audience in a brief moment of silent prayer. Before which he said, "We ... dedicate ourselves to the notion that we are determined to be the type of people that uplifts humanity."
Near the blood drive room is a small exhibit, "Quran in Tongues," displaying a number of translations of the religion's holy book.
The hijacking 12 years ago of four airliners — one flown into a section of the Pentagon outside Washington, one crashing in rural Pennsylvania and two hitting and destroying each of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York — claimed the lives of 2,977 people plus the 19 Al-Qaida hijackers.
The Al-Islam Students Association was founded after 9/11 "to inform the community of the true teachings of Islam," according to a news release. "After the attacks, many people had the misconception that the attacks were supported by Islamic teachings and the terrorists became the face of Islam; however, the organization strives to change that misconception and show people that Islam is a peaceful religion."
Besides the 9/11 program, the UA student group sponsors a quarterly lecture or seminar, Sofia Naseem said.