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Arabic, Quran courses popular at metro colleges - Atlanta Journal, USA

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  • Zafar Khan
    Arabic, Quran courses popular at metro colleges By KELLY SIMMONS Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 7, 2002
      Arabic, Quran courses popular at metro colleges

      Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer


      Arabic and the teachings of the Quran are among the
      hottest offerings on college campuses this year.

      A beginning Arabic-language course at the University
      of Georgia is filled for the fall semester, for the
      first time since the school began offering the
      language in 1991. Twice as many students have enrolled
      in Arabic at Emory University as last year. Georgia
      State University has seen a 50 percent increase in
      religious studies enrollment for the fall, with many
      students opting specifically for courses that feature
      Islam, Judaism or Hinduism.

      In the post-Sept. 11 world, anything related to the
      Middle East is in vogue. Nationally, the demand is
      high for experts in Middle Eastern studies, religion
      and languages. Schools that had seen limited student
      interest in basic religion, philosophy and history
      courses are finding their classes overbooked since the
      Sept. 11 attacks and escalating violence in the Middle

      "I think there is a genuine interest to become
      informed and look at these things in a more structured
      fashion than you might get through other means," said
      Tim Renick, director of the religious studies program
      at Georgia State. "We've made a concerted effort to
      try to speak to that interest."

      While students for the most part aren't changing their
      majors, they are exploring courses to broaden their
      knowledge of world events, Renick said. Some see
      increased career potential in the ability to speak
      Arabic or better understand another culture and

      Thirty-five students have signed up for UGA's
      Introduction to Arabic -- the maximum number allowed
      in the class, said Alan Godlas, associate professor of
      religious studies. Typically, about 20 students take
      the course each semester, he said. In addition, more
      students are enrolled for the second course this fall
      than typically have continued past the introductory
      course, he said.

      A future in Arabic

      Godlas said that's because students are seeing more of
      a future in being able to speak the Arabic language
      after Sept. 11. Students who learn the language have
      international job opportunities in government and
      private business, he said.

      Sept. 11 "has essentially increased the motivation of
      students to persevere in Arabic studies," Godlas said.
      "They're seeing there's more of a need."

      At Georgia State University, 329 students have
      enrolled in religious studies classes for the fall
      semester, and registration will continue until Aug.
      25. Only 201 students took religious studies classes
      last fall.

      At Emory, 23 upperclassmen are registered for Arabic
      101, more than twice as many students as took the
      class last fall. The school expects the class size to
      grow even more once freshmen register in August. Fall
      courses such as Islamic Political Thought,
      Consequences of War, and Might and Right: Political
      Theory and International Relations all are already
      overenrolled -- before freshman registration.

      Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia both report
      high student interest in courses that address world
      relations, conflict and terrorism.

      Introduction to Islam and World Religion are among the
      classes GSU junior Sara Malas will take this fall. A
      native of Saudi Arabia, Malas wants to become better
      informed about the issues in the Middle East, where
      she still has family.

      Misinterpreting religion

      Malas said she realized after the World Trade Center
      attacks how little her fellow students knew about the
      land she called home until age 5.

      "It bothered me how so many people were
      misinterpreting religion and people from the Middle
      East," Malas, 21, said.

      Gordon Newby, executive director of the Institute for
      Comparative and International Studies at Emory, said
      students historically have become more interested in
      world religion and culture following a war. Emory
      students flocked to Middle Eastern history and
      religion courses following the Iranian revolution in
      1979, and to a lesser degree, after the Gulf War in
      1991, he recalled.

      "When things show up in the news, people start to pay
      attention to them," Newby said.

      Middle Eastern issues also have become more prominent
      in core college courses, said Mike Digby, chairman of
      the government and sociology department at Georgia
      College & State University in Milledgeville.

      Basic political science and history classes now focus
      much more on U.S. relations with the Middle East,
      because that's what students and instructors are
      interested in, Digby said.

      Sept. 11 "was a gigantic teachable moment," he said.
      "It was just tailor-crafted for political science."

      Georgia State instructor Kenneth Smith said his
      Introduction to Religion and Philosophy of Religion
      classes focus more on Middle Eastern religions than
      they did in the fall. During Wednesday's 2 1/2-hour
      class, students listened intently as Smith outlined
      the teachings of the Quran, specifically its
      directives on war. The media has distorted Americans'
      perception of Muslims, portraying them all as
      religious fanatics, he told the class.

      Afterward, student Katherine Moore said the class had
      given her a different perspective on Muslim beliefs
      and possibly on the driving force behind the terrorist

      "I think we don't realize how other people see us,"
      said Moore, a grandmother of three who holds a
      bachelor's degree in journalism and is seeking a
      degree in religion.

      "Now I can go back and understand the world better. I
      can be more considerate of other people's opinions."

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