By Krista M. Madkins

Killeen Daily Herald

To some, Islam is a controversial religion. However, the word Islam, in Arabic, means "submission to Allah," and derives from the Arabic word for peace.

The religion focuses on the principles of belief in Allah or God, the belief in Allah creating angels, The Holy Quran scriptures and salvation through serving Allah, according to "The Great World Religions: Islam, 2nd Edition."

In addition to those principles, the Islamic community has what it calls "The Five Pillars." They are faith, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification and the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca for those who are able to travel.

Islam is the second-largest religion in the world; however, due to events in the past decade, Islam has received a bad reputation because of extremist groups such as al-Qaida.

A weekly program at the Harker Heights Recreation Center seeks to address misconceptions surrounding the Islamic religion.

The Lifelong Learning Studies program uses the DVD edition of "The Great World Religions: Islam 2nd Edition."

"We decided to do a course on Islam because of the level of interest that a lot of people expressed," said Joyce Mayer, the instructor of the class at the recreation center.

The course is free to the public. The class is working on the third lesson in the series. The weekly class takes place at 11 a.m. each Tuesday.

Mayer said, "The DVD collection has 12 lessons and it takes about three months to go through doing one lesson a week."

Members of the class come from several different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Among them this week was Shayna Nash, who is Jewish.

"I think the class is imperative to learn all three prominent world religions," said Nash, a former resident of Israel, who said she attends the class to be able to create alliances with people of that religion and to let go of any misconceptions that she may have of any of the religions.

Nash highlighted two main aspects of the Muslim culture that she was unaware of before getting involved in the class - the fact that Muslims pray five times a day facing the direction of Mecca and wash both their feet and hands three times a day.

These traditions and customs of Islam are "very important, to be clean and to be elevated closer to God," said Nash.

Nash admits that she is infatuated with learning about the Arab culture, the Middle East and about Islam.

She noted that she traveled throughout the Middle East by herself in her younger years, making friends with the native people of the areas that she visited.

Staying in hostels not hotels, Nash said "I came to see the natives' country and without an agenda."

She made friends with "Jehad, who was a modern Jordanian," she said.

Jehad got her through several checkpoints in Jordan after the 2006 Hamas bombing.

Nash said he embodied the warm, passionate part of the Middle East and in the Islamic communities.

Nash mentioned that other cities such as Austin have become involved with this movement to educate those who want to learn about Islam.

Closer to home, the Masjidut-taqwaa Islamic Community of Greater Killeen also offers information about the religion.

The next lesson at the Harker Heights Recreation Center will be on Islamic law. A future program will take a look at Buddhism.

For more information, contact Mayer at (254) 953-5657.

Contact Krista M. Madkins at or (254) 501-7468.

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