Americans need to learn more about Islam to correct the cultural misunderstandings that have caused unneeded hostilities, a Harvard University Islamic religion and culture professor said on Monday at the George Sherman Union.
Professor Ali Asani addressed a crowd of about 15 people in a presentation titled “I am American Too: Thinking about Islam and Muslims post 9/11.” The lecture was part of the Islam Awareness Week series sponsored by Islamic Society of Boston University.
Social chair of Islamic Society at BU and College of Engineering junior Ifran Govani said the lecture was necessary in order to teach the “plurality of Islam.”
“Islam isn’t just one idea,” he said. “I see Muslims and non-Muslims in the audience. There is a good mix of young and old.”
Asani began the lecture by discussing American society’s perceptions towards Muslims in the United States in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001.
He first talked about the claims that President Barack Obama was a Muslim.
“I could not help but reflect on the situation in America in the election of 2008,” he said, “the religious affiliation of Barack Obama became under intense speculation…they wanted to de-Americanize him, to falsely portray him as the Other.”
After the 9/11 attacks some commentators and Christian ministers propagated sentiment that Islam is anti-American, he said.
However, Asani said, not all Americans hold such views.
“It comes from a fringe and small group, but it is powerful,” he said.
He praised former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who once said there is nothing wrong with a Muslim becoming president.
“The example of many Muslims affirm Powell’s view,” he said. “They do not see conflicts between their faith and their country.”
Asani used Kareem Rashad Khan, a Muslim soldier who died fighting for the United States in Iraq, as an example of a person who does not see the conflict between faith and country.
“Many Muslims consider America a better Islamic country than countries that are traditionally Muslim,” he said.
Some see conflicts between Muslims and the Western world as a “clash of civilizations, but in reality it is clash of ignorances,” he said.
“What we are dealing with in the United States, and the world in general, is the illiteracy in culture and religion,” he said. “It is a failure of global educational system. This illiteracy leads to stereotypes, leads to very dangerous consequences. When I talked about Islam in America, they ask ’why do they hate us?’ When I talk about America in the Middle East, they ask the same question, with roles reversed.”
Asani then delved deeper into the media’s role in creating perceptions about the Muslim world and vice versa.
“People in Middle East know West through media, but there are very little studies on Western civilization,” he said. “The predominant image of Islam in the United States is also from the media.”
He said to understand a religion one cannot only look at rituals, doctrines or texts.
“The contextual approach looks at religion as a complex phenomenon,” he said. “What is important is how a person reads a text. It is influenced by one’s education, economic and social background. As context changes, people’s interpretation of religion changes.”
College of Arts and Sciences senior Suha Kadura said Americans’ perception of Islam has yet to be improved.
“Ignorance is still prevalent,” she said. “Hopefully in the future it will be improving, but now I don’t see too much progress.”
“We need to be more tolerant and accepting,” said CAS senior and attendee Samantha Bradley.
Source: Daily Free Press