The speakers are working to raise awareness about the problems that can affect all people, including Muslims.
With the image of Islam tarnished by the likes of Nigeria’s militant Boko Haram group, the Muslim community in the Southern African country of Zambia is hoping to project a more positive image of their faith.
“By definition, Islam means peace; its followers are expected to be peaceful people,” Badru Kisalita, a Ugandan Muslim preacher, told Anadolu Agency on the sidelines of a two-day program sponsored by the Islamic Council of Zambia.
“The action of Boko Haram does not reflect the true picture of a good Muslim,” he said.
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden” in Nigeria’s local Hausa language, has been blamed for numerous attacks – on places of worship and government institutions – and thousands of deaths the past five years.
In mid-April, Boko Haram militants stormed a high school in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State, and abducted scores of schoolgirls.
Kisalita hopes that the Zambian people’s interaction with the Muslim community will correct the misperceptions created by Boko Haram and its violent actions.
“Islam is a peaceful religion and so are its followers,” he said. “Unfortunately, the image of our religion is being tarnished by a few individuals with political motives.”
This week, Kisalita and his fellow preachers organized a successful two-day program, not only to promote Islam, but also to raise awareness about gender-based violence, terrorism and the ravaging effects of poverty.
“We are here in Zambia on a mission to sensitize the people on the dangers of HIV/AIDs, terrorism, poverty and fundamentalism, and how to prevent them,” he said.
“Among the speakers in the program are specialists in peace-building and medical experts who are not Muslims,” added the preacher.
The speakers, he said, were working to raise awareness about the problems that can affect all people, including Muslims.
“Although Zambia is considered a peaceful nation, it is not immune from these problems,” Kisalita noted.
“If allowed to degenerate into a crisis, Muslim communities can also be affected, as it is right now in Nigeria,” he added.
He went on to explain that true Muslims felt the suffering of non-Muslims, including victims of gender violence, poverty and HIV/AIDs.
The Muslim preacher said they had also tried to teach the people of Zambia about Islam, the Islamic dress code for women, the importance of hygiene, and why Muslims practice polygamy.
Islamic Council of Zambia President Masuzyo Phiri, for his part, said they also wanted to inform people about the upcoming holy month of Ramadan.
“As you are aware, we are approaching the holy month of Ramadan,” he told AA. “There is a need for us to tell the people why it is important for them to treat this month as sacred.”
Many non-Muslim Zambians who attended the program described it as an eye-opener.
“I must say, this is a memorable event for me to have attended,” John Zulu, a Christian Baptist, told AA.
“I learnt a lot from the discussion we had about the difference between a Christian and a Muslim,” he noted.
Zulu, 19, said that for many years he had thought Muslims did not know anything about Jesus Christ.
“I am surprised that even Muslims acknowledge the presence of Jesus Christ. The only difference is that Jesus in Islam is acknowledged as a prophet, while we Christians acknowledge him as the Son of God,” he added.
Melisa Sichone, 25, was equally surprised to discover that Muslims echew violence.
“All I knew is that Islam is a militant religion,” she told AA.
“My coming to this event has changed the perception I have had for many years,” Sichone said. “I hope the organizers of the event will continue bringing such interactive events in the future.”