Students and locals packed Hatlen Theatre last night to listen to panelists clarify religious terms and misunderstandings from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon two weeks ago.

Tuesday night’s panel was the first in a series of at least three panels collectively titled “Thinking through the Catastrophe.” The panels, coordinated by the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center (IHC), are intended to help the campus community by allowing people to discuss current events in an academic context.

Last night’s panel members, which consisted of four faculty members including Religious Studies Professors Richard Hecht and Juan Campo, Director of Islamic and Near Eastern Studies Stephen Humphreys, and Religious Studies and Comparative Literature Professor Ruqayya Khan, took turns expressing their views on America’s current classification of Muslims.

There are currently more than one billion Muslims in the world, approximately six to seven million of whom live in the United States.

Khan, an American citizen born in Pakistan, said Americans should be careful about classifying all of Islam based on one terrorist group.

“Islam is a cosmological, universal and inclusive religion that is being replaced by what I consider to be a bigoted, exclusive sect,” Khan said.

A majority of both audience and panel members expressed concerns about a war with Afghanistan, though few nonviolent alternatives were offered.

“Although a military reaction may be effective in the short term,” Hecht said, “I think that in the long term, using force is clumsy.”

“Quite frankly, any country that can’t defend its own citizens won’t have a very long life span,” Humphreys said. “I don’t see any other way to deal with the type of people who could pull off something like this without shortening their lives or at least making them exceedingly unpleasant. Unfortunately, there is no good way to do this without hurting innocent people.”

The panel members unanimously agreed that religion plays an important role in festering tensions in the Middle East, especially in relation to the idea of jihad.

“The word jihad means to struggle, specifically within a religious context,” Campo said. “It refers to a just war; it is not a conversion strategy. Jihad does not support attacks on innocent people. There is a lesser and a greater jihad, and the greater one is the struggle within oneself to overcome one’s weaknesses.”

Khan was impressed by the way that Americans have dealt with the recent events.

“If this had been in Cairo, we would not have seen the same type of compassion,” Khan said. “Non-white immigrants have a lot to learn from the American people.”

Panel discussions will continue next Tuesday at 5 p.m. in Corwin Pavilion.