Islam, Shariah and democracy were the topics of deliberation at the “Let’s Talk About It: Muslim Journeys” book discussion series held Tuesday night.
The first of five events was organized by the Troy University library with the theme American Stories, which includes books highlighting the stories of Muslims in the West, a demographic often ignored while studying Islamic and American history.
“Many people have misconceptions here and hopefully this will bring them to a better understanding of Muslims and their journeys and how it relates to America today,” said Rachel Hooper, business librarian and program coordinator. “And it’s a good chance to discuss these topics.”
The first reading in the series was “The Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States.” Speaker Aaron Hagler, associate professor of history, led the book discussion on the chapter “Islam and the Challenge of Democracy” written by Khaled Abou El Fadl.
Hagler went on to explain the major question raised in the chapter, which was whether or not Islam and democracy were compatible. According to El Fadl, it can be, as Shariah law is subject to human interpretation and personal choice.
Audience responses led to further dialogue on human rights, Middle Eastern history and generalized perceptions of the Muslims by Americans and vice versa.
Hagler explained that he chose that particular chapter from the book because he thought it would be the most interesting. “This was a chance to do something that I thought would be a little more theoretical, a little more abstract and allow for hopefully the kind of discussion that did end up happening,” he added.
Hagler said that since Islam has often been misconstrued and some people only like to talk about the extremist and terrorist side of it, it is essential to “shine light on other aspects.” “It’s very important to remember, especially as we move into a future where Muslims themselves are kinda struggling over who they are and what their religion is, to make sure that we don’t lump them all together,” he said.
Mohammad Abu Ali, a junior accounting and management major from Amman, Jordan, said that he finds tons of prejudice against Muslims, right here at Troy. “People think that Muslims would kill anyone who insults Islam which is not true,” he said. He recommends students attend these discussions to understand and know enough about Islam and not judge it.
“In a program like this which is so focused on experience, having students who are from the Middle East provides exactly the kind of perspective that we are trying to talk about,” said Hagler. “But it’s more than just origin or ethnicity. It’s about knowledge. It’s about understanding.”
Hagler said that understanding the Muslim population in the West or America specifically can provide a perspective that students may not otherwise have. “Exploring their experience makes us better Americans because these are other Americans or people living in America,” he said.
Lawrence Fogelberg, assistant professor of finance, said that although he thought the discussion was a movement in a good direction and productive, he still has his reservations. “One of my primary objection is to treating Islam just as another religion because its not,” he said. “It’s a religion but it’s also a political ideology.
“They started the workshop with this article by El Fadl that said Islam and democracy are completely compatible; its not. I wish that we had more time (for this discussion).”
“I think it was actually very enlightening considering I didn’t know much about Muslim history,” said Kevin Reaves, a senior computer science major from Greenville. “We have a large Muslim population on campus so it might help out with some of those stigmas. Also it doesn’t hurt to understand the people around you.”
The program at Troy is a part of a larger project put together by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association called The Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys.
Of the six theme offered by the Muslim Journeys project, Troy chose the theme American Stories. “We thought it would be good to tie it in with the history department here,” said Hooper. “Religion, sociology, those different areas would just be a good fit with the people we have on campus and the different departments.”
Four other books will be discussed throughout the fall semester with three Troy professors and one guest speaker from Auburn University leading each session. A limited number of these books are available at the library for students.
According to Hooper, the library at the Dothan campus had received a fund from the program a few years ago and the success of it prompted the Troy library to bring it here after receiving a grant for $1000.
According to the Muslim Journeys website, the program is currently running in 953 libraries across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The grant for the project is provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.