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Muslim students talk about their faith, culture at M State

Fikri Rramat, left and Elshan Mirzazade, right, two exchange students living in Perham, deliver a presentation on Islam and the cultures of their respective home countries to M State-Wadena Professor Tamera Moore’s World Religion class Wednesday. Rramat is from Indonesia and Mirzazade is from Azerbaijan.

Although they gained national attention for allegedly disrupting a Perham church service in a vocal defense of their faith, Fikri Rramat and Elshan Mirzazade led a tension-free discussion of Islamic culture for Tamera Moore’s World Religion class at M State-Wadena Wednesday.

 Fargo TV station WDAY and the Perham Focus reported in March that the pair were ejected from the Assembly of God church after confronting guest speaker Walid Shoebat over the content of the remarks he was delivering to the assembled congregation.

The boys later said he was spreading lies and distortions about Islam. After asking that Shoebat cite the specific verses of the Quran he was basing his views on, the two were asked to leave, they said.

Rramat and Mirzazade, who are exchange students in Perham, were recently asked to be guest speakers themselves in order to give Moore’s class firsthand insight into the religious practices of Islam, as well as cultures of their respective home countries. Rramat is from Indonesia, while Mirzazade hails from Azerbaijan.

Rramat opened the discussion by giving a brief history of Islam in Indonesia. He said the religion was initially brought to his country by Arabic traders. By 1900, 90 percent of Indonesians were Muslims, he said. At one point, Islam was the state religion, and although Indonesia’s government has since become secularized much of the current legal code has its origins in the tenents of Islam, Rramat said. He added that Indonesia also has a separate court system set up specifically to deal with religious issues.

Rramat said that since Indonesia is made up of thousands of islands, its culture is extremely diverse, with approximately 500 different languages being spoken within the country.

“I can speak four of them,” Rramat joked. “That’s very small compared to 500.”

Islamic rules prohibit the consumption of pork and alcohol. The concept of dating also falls outside of accepted Islamic practice, but Rramat said many Indonesian youth nowadays have broken that rule – himself included.

Both Rramat and Mirzazade talked about the Islamic practice of Zakat, which mandates that Muslims must give a certain percentage of their income to fund local efforts to aid the needy.

Rramat said there are also strict rules regarding the rights of women who enter into marriage. Brides can demand any material amount as a condition of their acceptance of the groom’s proposal, and the groom must pay it if he wants the marriage to become official. That money is then the property of the bride, not the bride’s parents, Rramat said.

Mirzazade said that although a majority of people in Azerbaijan identify as Muslim, many are not devout practitioners. All religions there experienced suppression by the Communists when the country was under the Soviet Union.

Mirzazade listed the five pillars of Islam: acknowledging Allah as the one true God and Muhammed as his messenger, praying five times daily, Zakat giving, fasting during Ramadan and making a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during one’s lifetime.  

He also noted that the idea of jihad doesn’t necessarily mean violent action. The term “jihad” can also be applied to prayer, devotion and self-improvement, he said.

“It means ‘strife, struggle,’” Mirzazade said. “It’s not holy war.”