Magazine article Social Studies Review

On Teaching about Islam

Magazine article Social Studies Review

On Teaching about Islam

Article excerpt

Teach it straight, without references to other religions or politics or prejudice or comparisons. There is a significant reason for mentioning this: I was surprised to learn that Comparative Religion is still being taught, wherein all non-Christian religions are compared to Christianity, leading to the conclusion that Christianity is superior. In the early fifties, my philosophy professor at Ohio University was very pleased to draw my attention to a new book on World Religions by John B. Noss, which was the first to treat each religion on its own merits.

There is an urgent need for objectivity, given the current situation, during which Islam is constantly being maligned. For a comprehensive discussion of the Muslim response to "America's false images of Islam" consult the book Silent No More by Paul Findley.

Begin with the basic teachings, then go on to details about Muslim life, relying heavily on both Muslim and non-Muslim authorities. In addition, discuss the history of Islam and the arts of the Muslim world.

An excellent and authoritative way to introduce a course on Islam is to show one, or preferably both, of the following videos to your students: Islam A Pictorial Essay in Four Parts: The Doctrine, The Life of the Prophet and the Faith, The History and Culture and The Arts and a recent Public Broadcasting System (PBS) production, also available on video, Islam: Empire of Faith.

A number of excellent books on Islam, by Muslims and non-Muslims are widely available. Islam by Fazlur Rahman, for example, and the judicious sections on Islam in The World's Religions by Huston Smith and The World's Religions by Ninian Smart. Recent publications include books by Karen Armstrong. For advanced students The Vision of Islam by Sachiko Murata and William C. Chittick, both professors at the State University of New York. [Editor's note: check for other books about Islam in the reference sections of the articles throughout this issue.]

Of the five principles of Islam, one needs to be emphasized: Charity or more accurately, Charities. Islam, I've learned, is the most charitable religion. There is even a Charity Tax, a little too complex to be discussed here. Charity is a highly significant practice in Islam. The Muslim is obliged to feed the hungry without regard to their religion. Also, according to the eminent Muslim theologian, al-Ghazzali, if a Muslim knows of a person starving and that persons asks for food, then the Muslim has committed a sin. He should not wait to be asked. A Christian Science Monitor video, Islam in America, discusses these charities and also other aspects of Muslim life, especially families.

The Qu'ran, Islam's sacred text, is too complex to be read without help from an authority. Fortunately, there are books which provide incisive discussions. One which is well-organized is Faruq Sheriffs A Guide to the Contents of the Qur'an. Also, seek out an authority on Islam, preferably an Imam or a person he recommends, to be your guest lecturer.

History is also a valuable teacher, provided the text is objective, One of the main reasons for objective texts is to go beyond the perpetual refrain that "Islam was spread by the sword." Fortunately, there are two recently published, scholarly anthologies, consisting of contributions by Muslim as well as non-Muslim authorities, which render Islamic history judiciously: The Oxford History of Islam, edited by John L. Esposito, and The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Islamic World, edited by Francis Robinson. There is another history to recommend, should there be a need to consult a comprehensive work: The Venture of Islam, in three volumes, by Marshall S. Hodgson. The Ornament of the World, by Maria Rosa Menocal, is a worthwhile portrayal of one of the finest periods in history. The sub-title of this book is an apt description: "How Muslims, Jews, and Christians created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain." Another book, an anthology, is A. …

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