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'Ask a Muslim Anything' draws crowd in Durham

Union Leader Correspondent

May 10. 2017 9:40PM
Robert Azzi listens to an audience member who said the Bible and Quran both have deficiencies during “Ask a Muslim Anything” Wednesday night at Durham Public Library. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

DURHAM — Approximately three dozen people turned out to the Durham Public Library Wednesday night to hear Robert Azzi of Exeter speak about being an Arab American Muslim.

Audience members jumped right in with questions about passages in the Quran, Azzi’s own conversion to the Muslim faith as an adult and radical Islam.

Azzi said in some parts of the world, the Muslim religion controls everything, from when people can work or shop, to whether or not they can drink alcohol.

American Muslims live in a country where they can observe the faith at will, he said.

“It’s a freedom that we find on our founding documents that sustains Muslim life and allows us to live a life here that is more free than in the Muslim majority world,” Azzi said.

Azzi said one of the questions he hears most often is, “Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism? Why are they silent?”

Azzi said that doesn’t fit the media’s “Us vs. Them” narrative.

“If anyone goes online and googles ‘Muslim denunciations of terrorism’ they would find thousands,” Azzi said.

Muslims are often the first to criticize acts of terror by radicals, and American Muslims report fellow members of the faith who may be involved in Islamic State to the FBI, Azzi said.

Azzi said a number of the young people being recruited by ISIS were not raised in strict Muslim families. He believes a majority of them are petty criminals, living on the margins of society.

Azzi said many people in the United States are afraid of ISIS, but their members are good at instilling fear, which is what gives them power over others.

“It helps us to justify our fear if we think the boogeyman is bigger than he really is, and when you turn on the light, he’s just a street criminal,” Azzi said.

Azzi said that only a tiny portion of the Muslim population believe in the teachings that fuel terrorists.

Azzi is a photojournalist, columnist and public speaker who has lived in Beirut, Cairo, Athens, Saudi Arabia and New York. Even though he has lived in New Hampshire since the 1980s, he continues to travel to work with Middle East clients.

At Phillips Exeter Academy, Azzi served as adviser to the Middle East Society and to the Muslim Student Association. Azzi has presented, “Ask a Muslim Anything” in various locations throughout the Seacoast area.

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