AUGUSTA — Reza Jalali, a human rights activist and Muslim scholar and teacher, said the suspects behind the Boston Marathon bombing belonged to a community of criminals and murderers, not Muslims.

“The only thing we have in common is they practice the same religion,” Jalali said Wednesday. “They would hate me, a liberal Muslim who goes around and talks about acceptance and tolerance.”

Jalali offered insight into his religion to about 70 people who gathered at the Michael Klahr Center in the Holocaust & Human Rights Center at the University of Maine at Augusta.

The program “Muslims in Maine” is part of A Capital Read 2013, presented this month by the Friends of Lithgow Library.

Jalali said he learned from a story on a public broadcasting network that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, identified recently as the mastermind behind the bombing, was asked to leave two mosques when he objected to one imam saying it was OK for Muslims to celebrate Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July and argued about another issue with a second imam in another mosque.

“People interrupted him and asked him to leave,” Jalali said. “This is good news we’re not hearing about, at least not often not by mainstream media.”

Jalali estimated that 5,000 to 8,000 Muslims live in Maine. “Many arrived as immigrants and are still trying to find their way,” he said. Others came earlier to work in a textile mill in Biddeford, where one graveyard has stones with Islamic names, he said.

“Every time there is a terrorist act … as we witnessed a week ago, many of us are heartbroken, frightened and feeling we’re being treated differently,” he said. “There are times that Maine feels very tolerant and some not.”

A Kurd from Iran, Jalali moved to India as a youngster to escape political persecution, then came to Maine in 1985 as a displaced person.

“There were no mosques, no falafel (a traditional Arabic food made from chickpeas),” he said. Then he found that kosher food met his dietary requirements, “so I was saved from starvation.”

Today he is an author and playwright and teaches at the Bangor Theological Seminary and at the University of Southern Maine. He also serves as the Muslim chaplain at Bates College in Lewiston.

“I believe one way to shrink darkness of our time is to come together, to share stories … to build respect where hate and violence have no place to grow,” Jalali said. “Hatred can only be defeated with love. To put it bluntly, as a community and as a nation, we can choose to fear one another and be suspicious of one another or reach out with hope and choose to live by the golden rule which is common to all religions.”

He said he learned much about Islam from his watching his parents and others.

He learned that crying can cleanse the soul, and he cries when he see photos of children who have lost their parents and homes to bombings.

“Call me a weeping, whirling Dervish if you must,” he said.

Jalali talked of the history of the religion, which now numbers more than 1 billion followers. “Early Muslims gave us algebra and, thank God, followed that with candy and coffee.”

“‘Islam’ means submission to the will of Allah, and ‘Allah’ is an Arabic term for ‘God,’ Jalali said. “It’s the same God that we all worship.”

A Capital Read 2013 continues next week with presentations by Amy Waldman, author of “The Submission,” the novel chosen for the communitywide reading project.

Waldman will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Jewett Hall at UMA after a group book discussion at 1:30 p.m at Lithgow Public Library.

Betty Adams — 621-5631
[email protected]

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