During the first formal event held by the Jafaria Islamic Society Youth Group on Sept. 8, at the Shia place of worship in Cudahy, Calif., world-renowned neurobiologist Dr. Naweed Syed praised the youth for their tolerance and encouraged them to keep up a dialogue with other communities.
Syed, who has been featured on the cover of Time magazine, came to the two-day event in Los Angeles from Calgary, Canada, where he is the head of the department of cell biology and anatomy at the University of Calgary. In the lecture he emphasized the value of education, explained Islam’s connection to science and advised the young people of the Jafaria Society to organize and change the negative perception of Islam in the United States.
“You are the millennium generation, most importantly you are tolerant.” Syed said. “You have the qualities we need to move the generation forward.”
Syed further explained to the audience of about 40 guests that after leading the way in the innovation of medicine and science, Islam has gradually drifted away from its true purpose, the search for knowledge.
“There were intellectuals at the forefront of the society before,” he said. “We have moved away from consultation, from the core, and instead have brought in mysticism.”
Although science and religion are often at odds today, Syed said the two should complement, not oppose, each other. As an example, he cited the intricate precision in the design of the brain that he believes would not have come about through evolutionary processes alone.
“I don’t see any divide between science and religion,” Syed said. “Science is reassuring what religion has said before.”
While speaking to the youth group he also said that, as U.S. citizens, they are obligated to do what is best for the country and live in peace and harmony with “our Christian and Jewish brothers.”
“We should defend allegiance to our country,” Syed said. “On 9/11, when they hijacked our planes, they also hijacked our faith.”
His scientific inspiration, Syed said, comes from a curiosity and desire to gain more knowledge. As a child he liked to take apart and reassemble toys to see how they were constructed.
Asgar Ali, who attended the lecture, said he found the idea of collaboration between science and religion interesting.
“Often they have this science versus religion conflict.” Ali said “This was more about how they are both connected.”
On the other hand, Abbis Riaz, who also attended the event, disagreed with Syed’s philosophy.
“He did a good job,” said Riaz. “Although I would not like to justify Islam by science.”
Ali Jafar, one of the members and organizers of the Jafaria Youth Group event, said the group of eight members would like to expand the organization to educate other communities about Islam and to bring the youth together.
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