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Rethinking Islam, Pakistan to Texas

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    Rethinking Islam from Pakistan to Texas Scholars emphasize viewing Islam in historical, political context By Ryan Z. Cortazar FAS Communications
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 26, 2007
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      Rethinking Islam from Pakistan to Texas
      Scholars emphasize viewing Islam in historical, political context
      By Ryan Z. Cortazar
      FAS Communications
      http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2007/03.01/03-islam.html


      Two Harvard professors are spearheading a new initiative aimed at
      defeating "a clash of ignorances," a clash, they affirm, that
      perpetuates misunderstanding, prejudice, and fear between Muslim and
      Western societies. Fueled by widespread global illiteracy about the
      nature of Islam and Muslim civilizations, this clash has dangerous
      implications for nations that are increasingly becoming multireligious
      and multicultural in character. Traversing the world from Texas to
      Pakistan and Boston to Kenya, Ali Asani and his colleague Diane L.
      Moore are helping secondary school teachers recontextualize Islam and
      provide new interpretations and understandings of the religion to
      teens throughout the world.

      "By empowering secondary school teachers with new insights into the
      nature of religion in general, and Islam in particular, we aim to cure
      the emerging generation of the cultural myopia that afflicts much the
      world's current views on Islam and the cultures of the peoples that
      practice it," said Asani, professor of the practice of Indo-Muslim
      languages and cultures at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Moore is
      professor of the practice in religion and secondary education at the
      Divinity School.

      Central to the program is Asani's cultural studies approach. Instead
      of viewing Islam merely through doctrinal texts, devotional practices,
      or interpretations of the Koran, Asani stresses the importance of
      drawing from a deeper well of historical, political, and economic
      contexts to understand how Islam developed in the Arabian peninsula
      and spread throughout the world, adapting to indigenous customs and
      cultures.

      He points to the currently limited approach to Islamic studies as a
      reason for common misunderstandings. "Among the world's great
      religions, Islam is often seen as the exception, especially in terms
      of scriptural interpretations," Asani asserted. "People cull the Koran
      for inflammatory passages and immediately proclaim Islam a violent
      religion and the source of terrorist violence, but the same doesn't
      happen with similar bloody passages in the New Testament or Torah
      because we understand these religions as phenomena occurring in a
      broader culture. The idea that Muslims commit violence solely because
      of their religion strips them of their history, their cultural,
      political, and historical contexts, and ultimately leads to their
      dehumanization. Part of this project is to help understand how
      religion functions in Muslim societies and how it does not function.
      Everything that happens in a Muslim majority society or that a Muslim
      does cannot be naively attributed to Islam."

      To this end, Asani has created a set of educational modules intended
      to provoke new and innovative understandings of the religion. Starting
      with lessons on the life of Muhammad and leading into Islamic
      Modernism and its struggle to adapt to growing Western and
      international influences, Asani provides teachers with readings,
      contextual sketches, and discussion questions to lead groups
      throughout the process. While Asani communicates with the teachers via
      Internet message boards and visits each of the four international
      sites to give lectures and elucidate readings through cultural and
      artistic artifacts, the bulk of the study is done through independent
      discussion groups moderated by the teachers themselves in a program
      that typically lasts six months.

      At the end of the program, Asani and Moore facilitate discussion among
      teachers on how to craft their own curricula on the study of Islam and
      Muslim societies that emphasize the new cultural framework as well as
      a pedagogical approach that stresses educational independence and a
      breakdown of the traditional teacher-student construction in order to
      encourage a more free-flowing dialogue.

      "In order for this system to really thrive, it must be a multilevel
      conversation with students voicing their own insights alongside those
      of the teacher," Asani said. "If this program is to have any success
      on the future world's understanding of Islam, we must encourage the
      next generations to engage in critical thinking on this topic to
      stimulate conversation, not suppress it."

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