What is the meaning of jihad?
What is shariah?
How many wives did the Muslim Prophet Muhammad have, and was he married to them simultaneously?
Such topics were discussed Sunday at a women's-only seminar sponsored by the Women's Auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's Buffalo chapter. About 100 women, mostly Muslim, attended the event in the Millennium Hotel in Cheektowaga.
The seminar was partly in response to the case of Aasiya Zubair Hassan, a Muslim wife and mother who was beheaded Feb. 12, allegedly by her Pakistan-born husband and business partner in their Orchard Park television studio.
"The crime was labeled as an honor killing. We want people to know there is no place for honor killing in Islam," said Tahmina Rehman, seminar organizer and president of the organization's Buffalo chapter.
Shanaz Butt, moderator for the event as well as acting dean for research and graduate studies and a pharmacology professor at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, said misconceptions about Islam include the idea of jihad, which is often associated with the military, violence and bloodshed.
But lost in translation is the true meaning of the word, which is to strive or to make an effort, Butt said.
"A student trying to pass an exam is a jihadist. A mother raising her children is a jihadist. The people in the seminar are all jihadists because we are striving," she added.
Often Islam is portrayed as a backward and barbaric, viewing women as weak and submissive to a religion that oppresses them, said the speakers.
They acknowledged that some Muslim women are not treated well, but said that should not be blamed on Islamic religious law, or shariah.
The problem is those who misinterpret the teachings to suit their own agendas.
"They use different interpretations; hence, we see acts of terrorism conducted in the name of Islam. Some use it to condone beating of wives," said Saliha Malik, a professor at Brown University, who converted to Islam in 1987.
Muhammad's relationships with his 12 wives, the speakers said, show him as a role model for treating a wife.
Even though the prophet had many spouses, he was in a monogamous marriage for 25 years with his first wife, Khadija.
He became polygamous after she died, Malik said, but not to satisfy his physical appetites.
His marriages were examples of how a man should treat his wife, said Nusrat Rashid, a Philadelphia attorney and guest speaker.
In addition, she said, Muhammad united various Islamic tribes through his marriages, and he demonstrated compassion, fairness and justice to women.
His 11 other wives included elderly widows, two war widows, a non-Arab slave, a Jewish widow who converted to Islam and a widow with small children.
"Muhammad never beat his wives. He didn't yell at them. If they were angry with him, he played aloof and stayed away from them for a short while," said Malik, who referred to specific verses in the Quran to prove the points.
According to the text, Malik said, wives were created for husbands to find peace of mind in them and that it is unlawful to "inherit women against their will," or to detain them wrongfully.
"There are so many inaccuracies," Rehman said. "We're trying to teach and clear up misconceptions and trying to get people to understand that Islam is about peace and love, not oppression and depression."