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Religion professor, Muslim business owner work to clear up misconceptions about Islam

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Confusion and misunderstanding can lead to even more fear and rifts between people after terrorist attacks.

Jeffry Halverson, assistant professor of religion in the philosophy department at Coastal Carolina University, took the time to clear up some of the stereotypes toward Islam Monday in the wake of the attacks in Paris.

He explained people trying to form an Islamic government are called Islamists. Even though those Islamists claim to subscribe to Islam, the majority of Muslims are not Islamists.

1.6 billion Muslims live around the world, Halverson said, and four million of them are radicals. He said this is a significant number in terms of threat, but a very minimal number when it comes to defining the beliefs of other Muslims.

"The idea of it suddenly being this political ideology that needs to be implemented through armed struggle, that is not something that would be normative at all in the Muslim world," Halverson said.

He said ISIS first formed after the United States left Iraq from 2011 to 2012. The Sunni Muslims dominated the government during Saddam Hussein's regime, but the Shiites took over after his downfall. The Sunnis then became marginalized and many resented it, which Halverson said is essentially the recipe for garnering support for a radical group.

"That's where the danger comes in, just as we see other extremist groups, including sort of white supremacist groups, appealing to certain people who feel marginalized and angry and want to be part of something by which they can express their anger, their rage," he said.

He said western countries have become targets because they intervene and try to counteract ISIS.

However, Halverson said ISIS is more about Sunni identity than it is about Islam.

"I stress the fact that it's about Sunni identity because, of course, ISIS doesn't seem to adhere to any sense of Islamic ethics whatsoever," he said. "They are interested purely in political expediency and bringing about this state and using whatever means they see fit to do so."

Nonetheless, fear and even hatred can set in for non-Muslims who aren't aware of the differences between radicalists and typical Muslims. Halverson said ISIS thrives off this phenomenon.

"They want people in the United States to be more anti-Muslim, to vandalize mosques, to try to drive your average everyday Muslim into a radical direction, just like the Sunnis in Iraq who felt besieged were driven into the arms of ISIS," he said.

Mike Safa, who owns Habibi's Lebanesse Market and Cafe, said he hasn't experienced extreme stereotyping during his 35 years in the Grand Strand.

However, he also wants people to understand what being Muslim actually means.

"Muslim is a good person who works and prospers and is honest and says the truth and helps his family and helps the community," Safa said.

He said he doesn't consider ISIS members or other radicals to be Muslims.

"They're not even close to the word Muslim," Safa said. "They're terrorists. They're killers. They're fanaticists. They're criminals. You an say they're the lowest of the low, but they're not Muslim."

Professor Halverson recommends people who have questions about Islam talk about them at interfaith workshops or at open houses at mosques.

Copyright 2015 WMBF News. All rights reserved.

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