Have you ever wondered what Islam is all about? Have you ever had curiosity regarding the beliefs of the Muslim people? Do you hear the media calling Muslims terrorists and wonder if it is true or not?
Through a grant provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and American Library Association, Rose State College hopes to answer these questions and more.
The grant is one that was awarded to over 900 libraries throughout the country, and consists of a collection of over 25 books, films, and resources that will introduce the American public to the history and culture of Muslims in the United States and around the world.
As a part of celebrating the Muslim Journeys grant, Rose State College is hosting a week of events related to American Muslims, the religion and culture.
The first discussion, aptly titled “Islam and the West”, was presented by Dean Fisher, Vice President of Student Affairs at Rose State, and held in the Learning Resource Center on the college campus. As way of introduction, we learned Fisher previously taught a course by the same name in the aftermath of the unfortunate events of 9/11 which sparked curiosity in the Muslim faith.
Fisher began his introduction to Islam in the West by connecting Islam to Judaism and Christianity as faiths rooted in the Abrahamic tradition. As a way to draw commonalities between various faith traditions, Fisher asked the audience to name God in different languages that they may know. Responses came in Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese, and Fisher used this as an opportunity to connect the common understanding of God in English, and other languages, to the Arabic term for God, Allah.
Fisher’s success at drawing commonalities between Islam and the Judeo-Christian understanding of God set the tone for a discussion that suggested that we have more in common than we like to admit.
Unlike a typical discussion on Islam, Fisher was open to discussing topics that could be considered politically incorrect or taboo. From the very beginning, the crowd was captivated by his brash honesty in his approach to discussing the plurality of religion in America.
During the presenation, Fisher utilized practical examples to show the difference between knowing and believing. “Isn’t that all that there is when it comes to matters of faith… that we believe,” Fisher stated to emphasize that regardless of whether an individual comes from a Jewish, Christian, or Muslim background, belief is at the core of faith.
Fisher wanted individuals to walk away from the day’s discussion with a better understanding that, “In general, we know very little, and believe a whole lot.”
Truly, belief is what binds many of our hearts to the understanding of a greater being. Perhaps, as Fisher said, we do know very little, however, as long as faith is a matter of belief, there is a lot we hold on to.
As a part of discussing Islam in the West, Fisher also tried to dispel myths about Islam and Muslims, such as the false notion that Islam is a religion of terror, or that all Muslims are Arabs. In truth, only approximately 25 percent of the world’s Muslim population are Arab, and the religion itself rejects all concepts of terrorism.
“Do not assume that just because someone is Muslim, they presuppose to accept all the hatred that is done in the name of their faith. Are there things that are done in the name of a faith that don’t represent the majority… of course,” Fisher said, adding, “There is a world out there of a billion plus Muslims that want to live their lives, take care of their families, and love their children. They want to lead their lives just as we want to lead our lives.”
Fisher touched on some of the positive impacts Islam has left us with throughout history including the preservation of classical learning, innovation in astronomy and mathematics, and providing a link between East and West.
Lastly, Fisher stated he “never encountered a Muslim that will not have a conversation on their faith as long as it is done with respect.” Perhaps that is the challenge we face in our social discourse on religion, faith, and understanding our differences. We must first learn to respect one another if we ever hope to move beyond tolerance and truly gain an understanding of each other.