GRANVILLE -- Lyone Fein often is frustrated by the way Islam is portrayed in the media.
"Either it's portrayed as a religion of peace in a sort of whitewashed version, or there's the notion that there is just violence and terrorism," she said. "Both pictures are inherently flawed."
A visiting assistant professor of religion at Denison University, Fein wanted her students to have a better grasp on the complexities of Islam.
She invited Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser to Denison to speak to students, faculty and local residents about Islam and Muslim culture.
Jasser is the president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, an organization that advocates for the separation of mosque and state and works build the future of Islam through liberty and freedom.
"What we really need to hear about is how to stop painting Islam with a broad brush, whether in negative or positive terms," Fein said. "That is what he is going to help us with."
Jasser gave a speech titled "Moderates and Radicals in Islam: How to Tell the Difference and Why It Matters" on Friday evening at Denison's Burton D. Morgan Center. The speech was sponsored by Denison's Religion Department and the Goodspeed Lecture Series.
A physician in Phoenix, Jasser has appeared on CBS, CNN, BBC and Fox News and advises members of Congress on anti-terrorism issues.
Jasser began his speech by explaining the difference between Islam as a religious faith and political Islam, which incorporates aspects of the faith into the legal system, he said.
Many Americans see Islamic radicals as being violent or anti-Western. But Jasser said he thinks radicals are fueled by political Islam.
"This is a battle within the house of Islam," he said. "What happens in that battle between secularists and theocrats has big implications (for our national security)."
No one wakes up one morning and decides to become radical, Jasser said. It is a process that builds over time, and it can be stopped by other members of the Muslim community, he said.
"Silence is part of the problem. Muslims are not standing up to speak up (against radicalism)," he said.
The best way to reform Islam and stop radicalism is to have a healthy discussion, bringing a variety of groups together, Jasser said.
"I want there to be space in the Islamic community for hundreds of schools of thought," he said. "To do that, you need separation of mosque and state."
Jasser said he believes Muslims can best practice their faith in a free, secular country. He said he is hopeful Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt will emerge from their recent revolutions as democratic societies.
"(The Egyptian president) created an environment that fed radical Islam," he said. "The only way to break that is to create a democratic environment, and that's why a democratic agenda is so important in the Middle East."
Jasser admitted Islam is an incredibly complicated topic but said he hoped his audience would use his lecture as a jumping-off point to continue learning.
"Hopefully this is the beginning of a discussion," he said.
Denison senior Charlotte Harris said Jasser's speech opened her eyes to the complexities of Islam and the diversity of the Muslim community.
A better understanding of Islam can clear up a lot of misconceptions about the faith, Harris said.
"In America, we are so quick to judge when we don't understand the religion," she said. "I think a lot of students don't have any knowledge on this subject."