Muslim Scholars Visit Wolfe's Class
On Monday, September 30th, five Muslim scholars who were participating in the Church, State and Society seminar visited Professor Wolfe’s class, Religion and Politics, to answer student’s questions about Islam and current world events. This was a timely conversation given that the class had recently read Bernard Lewis’ Islam and the West and had discussed issues related to religion and violence with respect to Islam.
Students’ questions ranged widely, from the feasibility of Islamic practice in the United States to why Muslim countries are predominantly non-democratic and how they view the foreign policy of the US. The scholar from Bangladesh tried to give a brief outline of the history of Islam in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as a primer in the ways that Islam and politics intersect. However, this immediately led to the discussion of another dichotomy—the separation between nationalism/ethnicity and religion. The Pakistani scholar was clearly displeased with the story that the scholar from Bangladesh presented and was quick to rebut each point, perhaps reflecting the current political clashes between these two nations. With this exception, the scholars seemed unwilling to be confrontational about the issues raised in the class discussion.
As guests of the United States and as representatives of their respective countries, they appeared reluctant to present views which could be construed as critical of Islam. Thus they were unwilling to express strong opinions on the controversial lobbying by Turkey, a democratic country with a 99% Muslim majority, to join the European Union. Moreover, when pressed by a student about why there is so much hatred towards Americans by those abroad, the scholars only went so far as to express displeasure with our foreign policy.
Perhaps the most interesting discussions occurred around the subject of terrorism. The scholars quickly denounced any tie between terrorists and Islam, arguing that true Muslims know terrorism to be wrong. None of the scholars approved of terrorist acts and supported this view by quoting from the Qur’an. The scholar from Pakistan stated that “when you kill one person, it is just like killing all peoples.” However, they acknowledged that terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda are actively recruiting in their countries. The scholar from India recalled that he had recently experienced one of his students coming to him for help in trying to resist the strong recruitment measures that terrorist organizations used. He cited the use of brainwashing and other tactics that he witnessed terrorists employing to persuade new members. The scholars agreed that neither Islam nor nationality had a role in terrorism and that these groups were extremists misrepresenting the Islamic faith. [This article was written by a member of Professor Wolfe’s class, and Boisi Center student intern Zachary Stanley].