Coffeeshop meeting fosters discourse about Islam, builds friendships with Muslims

Albert Zhao

A woman wearing a hijab, a traditional head covering worn by some Muslim women, in the Texas heat may automatically be viewed as oppressed, when in fact it was the individual’s decision, said Arif Mirza, outreach director for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Austin.

Speaking to a table of strangers of different faiths Wednesday at Caffé Medici, Mirza addressed misunderstandings about the faith, such as the perception that Muslims living in America may find religious conflict with the U.S. Constitution.

“Islam says that loyalty to your country, where you live, is part of the faith,” said Hisahn Qureshi, software engineer and member of the Ahmadi community. “Because I live in this country, I will truly abide by the rules. It’s part of the Constitution, it’s part of my faith.”

If any Islamic doctrine — such as polygamy — conflicts with the Constitution, then adherence to U.S. law must be prioritized over doctrine, Mirza said.

“We believe that Islam as a religion allows us to do certain things that (the) U.S. Constitution does not permit, again one of the examples could be polygamy,” Mirza said. “But U.S. Constitution prohibits that … the U.S. Constitution supersedes.”

Mirza said one of the best things about living in the United States is the First Amendment’s protection to practice any faith, particularly because his community, Ahmadiyya Muslims, is a persecuted minority in Pakistan. Mirza said many members of his community are grateful to be in the United States and safe from mob violence in Pakistan, where its constitution declares them to be non-Muslims.

Sam Johnson, mechanical engineering Ph.D. student, said he appreciated how the forum discussed Islam “freely and openly.” As a Christian, Johnson said UT would benefit from more interreligious dialogue.

“Even without thinking ‘OK, I want this person to become a Christian, I want this person to become a Muslim,’ I think it’s important with just understanding one another,” Johnson said.

Physics sophomore Vanessa Jimenez said she attended because she “wanted to meet new people and learn about Muslims,” adding that her last religious discussion with Muslim friends was in high school.

Mirza said one of the main purposes of the forum is for people to befriend a Muslim, especially because most Americans don’t personally know any. According to a 2015 YouGov poll, more than 68 percent of Americans don’t personally know a Muslim.

The event was part of a weekly series called “Coffee, Cake, and True Islam” hosted every Wednesday at Caffé Medici and the Corner Bakery Café in Round Rock, Texas.