Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Ignore Islamic Studies at Our Peril

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Ignore Islamic Studies at Our Peril

Article excerpt

It is dismaying how many colleges across the country offer curricula that present at best a cursory acknowledgement of Islam, the fastest growing religion in the world. Too many programs pay lip service to the religion without delving into the diversity of the Muslim population or its impact on world history and culture. For example, Muslims have played a role in the United States almost from the beginning. Historians estimate that more than 30 percent of the 10 million people sold into slavery in this country were Muslim, most hailing from West Africa.

Two such examples can be found in early slave accounts. In both cases, the African Muslims wrote in Arabic about their capture and enslavement in the United States. Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori was brought to the United States in shackles in 1788 and spent the next 40 years as a slave before being freed on the orders of President John Quincy Adams and Secretary of State Henry Clay. While enslaved, Ibn Sori wrote two autobiographies in Arabic that brought attention to his plight. On Jan. 1, 1829, Clay noted in his diary that Ibn Sori "joined the Black citizens of Philadelphia as an honored guest in their New Year's Day parade ..." Ibn Sori, who had always maintained that he was a prince, returned to the continent of his birth later that year.

Omar Ibn Said, born about 1770, was a Muslim scholar from the region of Senegal. He was captured and taken to Charleston, S.C., in 1807, and after escaping was recaptured and sold to an owner in North Carolina, where he died in 1864. Ibn Said wrote a biographical essay in Arabic that recounted his life and his firm adherence to Islam throughout his long years of slavery. Among his manuscripts were parts of the Koran, written from memory.

But slavery was not the only entryway for Islam in America. Around 1893, modest numbers of Muslim immigrants came to the United States from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. By the early part of the 20th century, European Muslims were coming from Lithuania, Albania, Poland and Russia. The first true mosque in the United States, built specifically for that purpose in 1935, was located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It is estimated that more Muslims, including those who converted to Islam, live in New York City and Detroit, than live in any city in the Middle East.

The growing presence of Muslims in the United States challenges educators to move beyond a Eurocentric curriculum. A careful reading of history shows that Western European Christians were not the sole influence on this country, as students are too often led to believe. …

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