Aida Mansoor loves making a good first impression.
The London native, who now lives in the Hartford area, will present an introduction to Islam Sunday from 2 to 5 at the Trumbull Congregational Church on Reservoir Avenue. Despite the fact that nearly one-quarter of the world population is Muslim, most Americans (62%) have never met one.
“That’s one of the biggest issues,” she said. “People are most likely to believe false perceptions about those they have never been introduced to.”
Mansoor, a member of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut, has conducted outreach programs and talks for the last decade. Among the things most American audiences find surprising is that Muslims worship the God of the Bible, and Mary, the biblical mother of Jesus, is the most revered woman in Islam, the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an.
The role of women in the Islamic world also is a frequent topic of conversation. Mansoor wears a hijab, the traditional head scarf, but didn’t always. She began wearing it in the 1990s, as she was expecting her first child. Mansoor’s mother, a native of Sri Lanka, does not wear one.
“It’s something women can choose to do as an act of devoutness,” she said. “Look at the artistic representations of the Virgin Mary. She always is portrayed with her head covered.”
While some countries, most notably Saudi Arabia, restrict women’s rights to the point of not allowing them to drive cars, that kind of discrimination is political and cultural, not religious, Mansoor said.
“In some countries, women are still fighting for their rights, but in others women have influence greater than they do in some Western countries,” she said.
For example, Pakistan elected a woman president in 1988. Since then women have been elected head of state in predominantly Muslim countries Indonesia, Kosovo, Bangladesh (five times), Turkey, and Kyrgyzstan.
In addition, the youngest woman ever to win a Nobel Peace Prize is Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl honored at age 17 for her advocacy of education for girls.
The other topic that invariably comes up is terrorism, which Mansoor said is politically driven and thrives in areas of political instability. For example, the group Islamic State (ISIS), which is designated as a terror organization by the United Nations and many individual countries, has its foundations in the early 2000s and gained strength after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime.
Terror can thrive anywhere there is instability, regardless of the religion of those carrying out the violence. The Irish Republican Army, which carried out a 30-year political terror campaign that killed 3,700 people in 88 separate bombings, was predominantly composed of Catholics. Mansoor, who grew up in England, said she was shocked to see a tribute memorial to IRA member Bobby Sands, who died in 1981 while in English custody.
“This is someone who I had known as a terrorist for my entire life,” she said.