Panelists discuss conversions during Islamic Awareness Week

Islam is a religion of peace, logic and tolerance, said panelists assembled Thursday evening as part of Islamic Awareness Week at Vanderbilt.

“If you want to know what the solution to terrorism in the world is, it’s Islam, said Omar Dunlap, who shared his conversion experience along with fellow panelists Nuruddeen Lewis, Lana Lockhart-Ezzeir and Roxanne Jenkins. Yazmin Zakaria moderated.

The panel discussion was titled “Islam is Beautiful – What Attracted Me to Islam.” Islamic Awareness Week events organized by the Vanderbilt Muslim Student Association were set to culminate on Friday with 1 p.m. open prayers on the Library Lawn and a 5:30 p.m. showing of the documentary “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet” in McTyiere Lounge.

The turning point for Dunlap was a joke that turned seriously life-changing.

Dunlap said that his prankster nature led him to fake sudden religious conversions to fool his friends. When he began faking being Islamic, he found himself drawn in.

“I never got to the point where I told them I was just joking, because by that time I’d converted,” he said.
Lockhar-Ezzeir recalled feeling “very, very, very sorry” for women in Muslim garb she encountered while attending Louisiana State University. After her sister converted, she attended Muslim meetings with her armed with questions that challenged the faith.

“I’m sure I offended quite a few of the ladies there,” Lockhar-Ezzeir said. “They were very very polite, very very understanding, very very patient. … What happened is, they answered my questions. And if they didn’t know the answers to the questions I brought up, they found out the answers.”

“Without me knowing it, they were actually getting to me much more than I was apparently affecting them.”

The modest dress including head covering required by Islamic tenets took some getting used to, especially the loss of peripheral vision while driving, Lockhar-Ezzeir said.

“To me, it gave me freedom and equality that I’ve never had before,” she said. “I found that people were judging me by my thoughts and not how I looked.”

Rich Zeigler of the InterVarsity Chistian Fellowship challenged the panel by quoting a passage from a collection of sayings of Prophet Muhammad known as the Hadith that called for a death warrant on the head of anyone leaving the Muslim faith for another religion.

“Context is everything,” Dunlap answered. The passage in question referred to war criminals who betrayed their religion, families and government, he said.

“I think a lot of the violence comes from a Muslim misunderstanding of their own religion (due to) Western influence,” he said. “When you start teaching the true religion … that will end terrorism right there. It will nip it in the bud.”

Contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS

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