Professing Dismay

Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality Channel: Opinion Views: 4947

I am an Islamic scholar, a university professor specializing in medieval Islamic mysticism and philosophy. My work used to be considered somewhat arcane. Now colleagues tell me I am in a "hot field." I can tell you it sometimes feels more like a "hot seat."

Since Sept. 11, I have been expected to move easily back and forth among academia, town meetings and think tanks. People now tend to conflate everything relating to Islam, Muslims and the Middle East reductively. I teach Islamic studies, so it is assumed I can comment (in neat sound bites) on terrorism, modern Islam and the war in Iraq.

Even before 9/11, students were curious about the differences between Islam and other religions, and some of their questions betrayed underlying prejudices. They wanted to know about the rigidity of Islamic law, human rights, gender inequality, Islamic proselytizing and the ill treatment of non-Muslims by Muslims. Now, the students' central concerns are Islamic terrorism, Islamic extremism, the global reach of groups like Al Qaeda, anti-intellectualism in Islam and whether Islam poses a threat.

Working through these issues is part of the educational process. Still, the task of overcoming the hostility that comes into the classroom is daunting. I look wistfully at colleagues who teach Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and other religions. Do they have to spend class time humanizing their traditions or proving their rich histories? I doubt it.

Today, scholars of Islam struggle to come up with a pedagogical response to global events, and to address the overwhelmingly negative perceptions students bring to learning about Islamic traditions. Clearly there is a need for classes dealing with contemporary issues. But the problem for scholars not trained in modern issues is that they're being asked to address subjects far outside their specialties.

I and many of my colleagues feel pressure to change our research. If our work does not contribute to the war on terrorism, then we are seen as unpatriotic. I never thought that global affairs would politicize my field like this.

The way one must teach about Islam today is not the way we were prepared by graduate schools to teach. Students in classes are demanding that course content be relevant to their lives. As one student asked me: "Is this piece of information at all useful in catching Osama bin Laden?" In an introductory course I teach, students read primary documents from theological debates between Sunnis and Shiites in the 11th century. A student recently asked whether "the Shiites used terrorism to defend their beliefs." I don't think a Christian scholar would be asked, say, whether Martin Luther used terrorism to defend the 95 theses he posted on the church door. But where Islam is concerned, violence is assumed.

On some level, I can understand my students' obsession with trying to understand this new world. My colleagues and I have been deeply affected by global affairs. Since 9/11, I have seen my country adopt Islamophobia without hesitation. Things like the Patriot Act, the forthcoming Patriot Act II, new Citizenship and Immigration Services registration regulations, government surveillance of Arab and Muslim American communities and infiltration of places of worship have directly affected U.S. Muslims. I have listened as Christian evangelical leaders demonized Islam, calling the prophet Muhammad a pedophile.

Vigilance against foreign terrorists was absolutely a correct response for the U.S. But the kind of intense scrutiny all Muslims have been subjected to goes far beyond ordinary caution. It leads to a deep feeling of insecurity. We all know how easily our lives can be disrupted. No matter that we are loyal citizens of this country: We bear the burden of overseas politics and fanatics.

Even bookstores, every academic's sanctuary, have become reminders of how the world has changed. The Islam section used to be filled with books of interest to scholars: Now it should be renamed the "jihad and terrorism" section. There are more books than ever on Islam, but they are written by non-experts and many carry offensive titles like "Sword of Islam: Muslim Extremism From the Arab Conquests to the Attack on America," or "A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America." These books perpetuate a one-dimensional picture of fundamentalist Islam as being the predominant practice in the Muslim world. Good luck trying to find scholarly works on art, architecture, poetry, philosophy, fashion, ethics and literature of the Arab and Muslim worlds. They exist but are no longer carried.

One positive of all this, I suppose, is that I'm invited to speak more frequently. But it's somewhat absurd that I - a medievalist - am asked to explain the ideological interconnections between contemporary Wahhabism, jihad organizations and Al Qaeda. In the last few months I've been interviewed or asked to speak on the scandals of Pakistan's nuclear program, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's clerical status, Iranian reformers, the banning of the veil in French public schools, the Kashmiri dispute between India and Pakistan and Muslim perceptions of Saddam Hussein's capture.

I suppose I should be happy that at least my audiences are always alert and engaged. Global events have attracted ordinary people who had no interest in Islam. And I take the opportunity to put events into historical context, because as much as contemporary issues are seen as new phenomena, they aren't. To understand them, it is critical to understand what came before.

Until Sept. 11, I never saw myself as all that different from other Americans. Was I deceiving myself? It certainly felt that way recently coming back from a conference in Canada. I was interrogated, fingerprinted, photographed and humiliated. I could no longer be seen as just another academic attending an arcane conference: I was the other, a stranger and a potential terrorist.

These experiences have transformed me and redefined my identity and my place in academia and society. It is one thing to experience alienation; it is another to have it forced upon you in order to make the majority feel more secure. I didn't go into Islamic studies expecting it to require me to constantly defend my own humanity - and that of my religion.


Qamar-ul Huda is an assistant professor of Islamic studies and comparative theology at Boston College. He is the author of "Striving for Divine Union: Spiritual Exercises for Suhrawardi Sufis."

Source: Los Angeles Times

  Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality  Channel: Opinion
Views: 4947

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Older Comments:
life is not all about happening,but it is about applying,this is what i believe is theory and practice of islam,in the process 'we'[appliers in the islamic world]have to take some hard decisions pertaining to our presentation to rest of the world,which should be less of complaining but more about informing about contemporary situations vis a vis practice of islam[which is not violence and terrorism atleast]so let us all APPLY.

In spite of H.A.'s many clearly erroneous statements (for example, his/her contention that European "countries" had ever lived in dark caves since countries are to large to fit in a cave), he/she makes an interesting point about the West spreading immorality. American Christians like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and other conservatives have repeatedly claimed that America's materialist culture as well as Europe's hedonism has made the world a more vice-ridden and less God-fearing place. That's why many evangelicals are doing their best to spread the word of God throughout the world (including Muslim countries), because they believe that Christianization of the globe will help people turn away from the vices propagated by Western culture, and return to the Path of God through Jesus Christ. In their view, only Christianity can repair the damage to global morality that the West has created.

But whether or not the evangelicals are correct, it cannot be said that the West's propagation of the vice culture is causing so many Muslims to submit to the path of terrorism. There's a difference between immorality that makes people promiscuous and the evil that makes people murderers. Nevertheless, evangelicals believe that spreading love can end terrorism in the Muslim world.

Still, I find it fascinating that a Muslim like H.A. can find common ground with American evangelicals.

How very pathetic and insipid Mr Gomesh Chander. You capitalize on the Nazi holocaust although you or any member of your family was not affected by this horrific stage in human history. You are very ignorant of Arab or Muslim culture or history and very biased, due to your Indo-Judaic background, which causes you to arogantly err. I will make an attempt to cast a light on the "facts" Mr. Gomesh presented.
1) What do Arabs and Muslims have to do with Nazi Germany? The fact that some Muslim politicians condoned Hitler's ideology is not more degrading than that of American, French, Italian, British and so on and so on politicians, throughout the world. Germany was a super power and had her dogs as well as USA has her dogs today. The question stays, were the Muslims the kappos of Auswitsch or Dachau? No, the Jews were, spying, ratting on and mercilessly torturing their own kind. A Muslim would die thousand deaths before doing that. However, this is not the point, fact is, the Jewish holocaust is related to Muslims as sequoia trees to blue whales. In conclusion to this point, maybe it is news for you, the Nazi Germans did it. Not Germans! Not Arabs or other Nations. Nazi Gemans!
2) The Jews that were hanged in Arab countries in the aftermath of the Israeli wars of 1948 & 1967? Were not only Jews, were Muslims and Christians for the greater part. They were spies for Israel and charged with high treason for which the capital punishment is the reward. Do not forget that USA executed Jews like Rosenberg on a mere speculation of high treason and espionage. Name me a country that wouldn't prosecute traitors.
3) So, what are you saying, that we should continue in the mistakes of our predecessors, but transfer it to another nation. We had Jews being subject to extermination, Japanese (Hiroshima & Nagasaki), Blacks, Vietnamese, Koreans, shall I continue? Now what? Let's kill the Arabs and the Muslims? That's it? Doesn't your conscience bother you? Kill th

The WEST particularly, the UK and US, and also the Zionist state, Isreal, and their citizens are the real terrorists & also a great force behind spreading immorality and injustice and oppression throughout the world.

Since its first day of exit from the dark caves of Europe, the European countries committing terrorism all over the world. Just read the history. It's sad that they call themselves peacemakers and spreader of morality.

Just take a look at Iraq...Just to take out one person, Saddam, they killed so many Iraqis and even killing their sons and daughters. Is that an angellic act! Even more shocking is that the citizens of these countries who boast for being highly educated and on a moral high ground, are paying for these terrorist acts.

In additions, they are so morally and physically weak that they easily become victim of emotional propaganda. For example, everyone in the world knows that Bush is a Chrisitian fundametalist and the international terrorist. Just ask Nelsen Mendela and other real/TRUE intellecuals like him. Yet, the American public paid for the terrorism in Iraq and are still doing it.

Besides, they (Americans & British) are responsible for creating the zionist state, ISrael, and still paying to continue the oppession of the Palestinians. They took away 55% of fertile lands of Palestinians and then forcefully settled the zionists in the rest 45% of the unfertile land. Their oppression and terrorist acts do not end there;
The Americans are still paying to have thousands of checkpoints to harrass and humiliate all Palestinians 24-7-365.

Who would tolerate barbarians coming to your home and forcefully displacing you from your home???
Currently, they justify their terrorism and oppressive activities with their economic success, but smart people in the world know they are living better at the expense of people in the poor countries.
Just very sad ...Muslims, Chrisitans and Jews lived peacefully before European ex

I just want to comment on the picture of the burning crescent . Allow me to disagree on posting such horrible picture . Though the crescent isn't a symbol of Islam , it doesnt give a nice feeling when its seen burnt. We dont need any violence symbols more than we see on Tv. Plus, Islam will always be protected Inshallah and there will be always the people of God on earth. I respect the scholars who draw Muslim attention to serious issues , but still i dont feel such pictures would help muslims feel better specially at these hard times.

May Allah bless you all .

I absolutely agree that in order to end the scourge of terrorism, we need to adress the roots. And these roots are the unfortunate corruption and breakdown of morality within the Muslim world. While I genuine believe in the inherent goodness of Islam itself (from what little I know of it), I also believe that too many who wear the title of a Muslim have chosen the path of moral ambiguity over moral clarity. How else can one explain the continuous litany of excuses that are heard from the Muslim world whenever a Muslim kills a non-Muslim in cold blood? After all, Muslims have no monopoly on being the victims of injustice, since injustices occur throughout the non-Muslim world as well. Nonetheless, we don't hear about any Tibetans blowing up train stations in Beijing. Those who freely choose terrorism do so because they lack moral clarity, pure and simple.

Moreover, this moral decay in the Muslim world is not a new phenomenon. We can trace it back to historical figures like Muhammed Amin al-Husseini, who openly supported Hitler's "Final Solution". And the decay continued with the Pan-Arabism of the 50s and 60s and then to the more recent rise of religious extremism afterwards. Today, there seems to be no end in sight.

And what makes this even more tragic is that things weren't always this way. There was a time when the Muslim world was much more enlightened, more tolerant, and more civilized than even the hegemonic powers of Europe. Unfortunately, no one has been able to end the hemorrhaging caused by the moral decay that took root many years ago. So it's no wonder that many Muslims seem so morally confused that they can genuinely believe that murdering innocents is a pious way to oppose perceived injustices.

Bottom line is that to address the roots of terrorism, the Muslim world must cleanse itself of the evil within. Non-Muslims can't do it for you.

I just don't understand why Americans are so deaf and blind about their government policies ( their tax are used to support zionist), they use very slick way against other countries especially muslims world. When we are tired using diplomacy way and start using hard ways to defend our dignity they called us terrorist. this world is up side down and what we do now is just holding Qur'an and Hadeeth very tightly and regain our victory in front of Allah SWT.
Some muslims scholars and rulers now have been slaved by western rulers to blurr muslims about their religion, such as Hijab or veil isn't Islam, Jihad isn't fighting aginst kufrs, there is no Islam Law and etc. And these guys willing to sell their religion for dollars.

I sympethise with the writer. Its not nice being alienated when you are a good citizen and have done nothing wrong. Perhaps Nick Cameron can picture himself in such a position and Lord knows how tables can turn?

To truly make any attempt to remove terrorism one must attempt at understanding its roots and aim to remove such, so it ceases to be a popular venue for venting angers. And to think that the US was attacked in 911 because the terrorists hated your 'freedom' is to believe that pigs can fly. It is human nature to love for no reason, but a person must have a darn good reason to hate. Stop kidding yourself that people hate you for your freedom. This has become a joke beyond the shores of America.

Even Osama bin Laden has clearly spelt out his reasons for attacking America. Let me spell them out because this is engraved in every Arab/Muslim's mind. A) Do not blindly support Israel and blindly denouce Palestinians. Take a more balanced approach to this issue and make a determined effort to curb the aggression of your 'delinquent' state. B) Remove your troops from Arabia and any other non-democratic Arab/Islamic country - and that includes all of them, unfortunately!. C) Stop supporting tyrants and using them to further your own interests at the cost of local/indigenous people. Sadly, OBL has hijacked such demands.

So, really, America started this game of terror and 'we reap what we sow'. Which Islamic country in the last 200 years attacked you? or whose soldiers roam your cities? Yet, your country has attakced so many and has troops in so many. What makes you believe that if you have a good message you can only deliver it through force, yet you are the first to point a finger at Islam that it was preached through the sword. Hell what can a sword do against depleted uranium messiles, not to mention nuclear, daisy cutter, etc.

Come in peace and you will find us more peaceful. Truly value us and we will value you more. This is human nature.

For God's sake, V Prinsep: the Shiites in Iraq are practicing (considerable) self-restraint (at the moment) -- not committing acts of terrorism -- unless perhaps your perspective is that of a high-level member of Iraq's previous government. Perhaps you yourself might benefit from enrolling in one of the author's classes (or at least doing a bit more reading perhaps on your own).

Also, would you care to share with the rest of us what you yourself would NOT be willing to do, if you or a member of your family had the chance to marry one of God's messengers. May peace be upon God's messengers and their families (and upon yourself and your family as well).

Looks like the Professor suddenly got shaken off his ivory chair because he has been concentrating on 'life afterwards' than 'the real world'. I doubt most of his students in Islamic Studies courses are muslims; if they were, they will not be asking questions about 'terrorism'.

Non-muslims worry about the 'real world' rather than 'life afterwards', To them, Islamic Studies classes are more a sort an 'academic curiosity' rather than a subject of 'real life'; none of them is likely to become an islamic scholar; you can't make a living by being an islamic scholar.

So professor will have to become adept in explaining the 'real world of islam'.

He mentions his humiliations in getting fingerprinted. Relax, professor. Hell, Germans burned Einstein's and other eminent scientists books; what was their crime; they were just jews. Just ask the jews what happended to them in Arab countries when Arab armies got defeated by Israel in 1948 and again in 6 day war of June 1967; there were public hangings of jews in Baghdad (and Sadam Hussain was not the president at that time). Just ask the Japanese americans what happended to them after Pearl Harbour; US even put them in concentration camps. Well, after the devastating attack of 9/11, no muslim lawfully resident in US was sent to jail not to talk of concentration camps and there have been no public hangings of any muslim. People are ready to defend the rights of muslim prisoners of war in Gitmo. Have any muslim ever defended the rights of jewish prisoners of war captured by Arabs.

So, relax professor; enjoy the freedom you have in US. In US you got fingerprinted and you are complaining; I wonder, what would have happended to you in Egypt or Sudan; nobody would probably would have heard of you, if you were arrested.

Well john... The early and Medieval Roman Catholic church used terrorism, the crusaders used terrorism, Ferdinand and Isabella used terrorism, the Aryan-Nazis and the KKK used terrorism, and the Zionist Jews who dominated (and still dominate) the scene in Israel use terrorism as well. Those are just off the top of my head I can come up with more if you would like.

The USA has been the biggest threat to world peace working behind the scenes to topple governments that they do not like. This proven track record far exceeds that of the "Muslim" terrorists. In fact, this foreign policy of oppression is arguably responsible for creating this so called "Islamic" terrorism. Yet, no one is allowed to criticise the USA's secret regime of terror and world domination. Remember, USA is the only nation in the world to have used a H-Bomb against another nation. As you can see, its easy to demonise a whole group of people with broad statements. Of the billions of Muslims out there, the amount of Terrorists are so small that you cannot justify demonising Islam. If they were all terrorists, you'd really have something to worry about.... Think for yourself and you will find that if we tackle the causes of terrorism, only then will be be "safe". I strongly believe that the average American does not want to destroy Islam, it's just the demonisation in the media and government speeches which leads so many to misinterpret Islam, the religion of peace and submission to Allah.

'...I have listened as Christian evangelical leaders demonized Islam, calling the prophet Muhammad a pedophile.' And how old was Aisha? 6? 12?

'A student recently asked whether "the Shiites used terrorism to defend their beliefs."'. The student likely continued the question with 'like they are in Iraq right now?'

So did Martin Luther use violence to prpagate the 95 theses? Let us know, Professor

While I sympathize with this author regarding his situation, I nonetheless believe in the importance of knowing one's enemies, as Sun Tzu advised. Of course it's true that Islam is not America's enemy and most Muslims do not want to kill us. But at the same time, we should acknowledge that the most dangerous external threats to our country presently come from Muslim communities throughout the world. Therefore, it makes sense to me that we learn about our enemies by trying to understand their religious background, which is Islam.

So I regret that the author feels some "dismay", but I don't think that it can be helped. It is the way of things today, and it will be this way for the foreseeable future.