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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Church, State, and Society Seminar Visits Hartford Seminary

Date: September 19, 2002

Event Recap

On Thursday, September 19th, Muslim scholars participating in the Boisi Center’s Church, State, and Society seminar visited the Duncan Black Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut for a day of panel discussions.

In the morning, the scholars met with Professor Ibrahim Abu-Rabi, co-director of the Macdonald Center; and Professor Ingrid Mattson, Professor of Islamic Studies. Abu-Rabi, a Palestinian citizen, began with a brief overview of the Macdonald Center’s history, after which Dr. Mattson spoke about the benefits of pursuing Islamic studies at a non-Muslim institution. She highlighted the freedom of thought available to Muslim thinkers, a freedom which allows one to transcend the usual terms of debate in the Muslim world (e.g., secularism v. orthodoxy). This relative freedom is embodied in Mattson herself, who was elected as the first female vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, a group dedicated to helping Muslims live an Islamic way of life in North America. Mattson also addressed some of the problems of being a Muslim in America, remarking that balancing American freedom with the ethical requirements of Islam is a challenge; for her, “everything is a test.” For example, America’s freedom and affluence can encourage an un-Islamic indifference toward the poor. Abu-Rabi expressed concern that the terrorist threat is leading Americans to view Islam and Muslims as enemies.

In an afternoon panel, Professor David Roozen, co director of the Hartford Institute of Religious Research and Professor Jane Smith, co-director of the MacDonald Center, presented the findings of a survey they had conducted of American mosques. They pointed out that the number of mosques in the US increased 42 percent between 1990 and 2000, compared with 12 percent for evangelical Protestant denominations. Moreover, Roozen remarked that more than 93 percent of U.S. mosques are attended by more than one ethnic group, suggesting that they are more multi-ethnic than would typically be found in other American religious groups or in most Muslim countries. One of the scholars from Malaysia, Kamarul Mat Teh, was so impressed by this survey research that he expressed a desire to undertake a similar kind of survey in Malaysia.