A local member of the Islamic Association of Kokomo (IAK) is hoping community events and a broader understanding of his religion can result from recent political controversy.
In recent months, political controversy has swirled around the Islamic religion. That controversy, stemming from derogatory anti-Islamic remarks made online or shared by Republican city officials, has resulted in the resignation of one Kokomo Common Council member and the denunciation of his successor by the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization.
Dr. Kasem Kasem, a member of the Islamic Association of Kokomo, has emerged as something of a bridge between the Howard County Republican Party and the area’s Islamic population. He hopes that recent events can spur a better connection between the IAK and the community at large.
“People need to get educated, and I think that is the idea, that the way to fight this is to shed light,” said Kasem. “Instead of cursing the dark, we should light a candle.”
To Kasem, recent events showed that there still exists a great deal of misunderstanding about Islam. The derogatory social media posts by former Kokomo Common Council Member Greg Jones and his recently-appointed successor, Roger Stewart, differed in language but shared the theme that Islam and sharia didn’t comport with American ideology.
“To think the word sharia has become dual or scary and that people are afraid of it, we need to clear this out. There is no contradiction between the Constitution of the United States and the Quran and sharia,” said Kasem. “This is a problem in the Middle East. People need to know that the Middle East is now full of dictators who want to fight really the western Democracy … They look at the dictators of the Middle East, and they are totally 180 degrees away from Islam.”
It’s common for the idea of sharia to be equated with extremism. Sharia is actually a set of Islamic principles that serve as direction for how Muslims should conduct their faith. Kasem said there are equivalents to sharia in many religions, such as Christianity and Judaism.
Sharia, just like any other religion, is subject to a wide variety of interpretations, usually from practitioner to practitioner.
But, at its core, Kasem said sharia revolves around the idea of justice. He said justice, within the context of sharia, can be interpreted as a need for principles such as equality, freedom of speech, and freedom of choice.
“Justice is to love others the way you love yourself,” said Kasem. “Islamic justice is to love others for you love yourself. Love is to implement justice in your effective barometer. The idea is justice and love are synonymous to each other.”
Recent events weren’t the first time the IAK faced difficulty. In 2016, a gunman fired a shot into the IAK’s window in the dead of night. A few years prior to that, armed protestors took up posts outside the local mosque as well.
Kasem said he believed the only way to combat such ill-will was for the community to garner a better understanding of Islam. The best way to do that, he said, is through connection. As such, Kasem said he hoped that local officials and the IAK can work together to host several community events in the near future. In particular, Kasem said Ramadan, which begins on April 23, could serve as an ideal time for such an event. In the past, the IAK has opened its doors to the community for Ramadan.
After the emergence of Stewart’s social media posts, both Stewart and Howard County Republican Party Chair Jamie Bolser reached out to Kasem. Kasem said he was assured by Bolser that the social media posts didn’t represent the views of the local party. Similarly, a sit-down was in the works between Stewart and Kasem.