The group was welcomed by Dr. Hisham Altalib, Trustee and Vice President of IIIT and Dr. Abubaker al Shingieti, Executive Director of IIIT USA.
Professor Abdul Aziz Sachedina, IIIT Chair of Islamic Studies at George Mason University, addressed the group on “Islamic Studies in American Universities”. He focused on the challenges of teaching religion in general within a predominantly secular academic culture; and the profound problems specific to teaching Islam and Muslim world affairs particularly after the September 11th events. There is an academic, as well as a political, bias in teaching about Islam and Muslims, he contends, and the prejudice is growing in spite of the increasing interest and numbers of scholars – including Muslims – who are entering into Islamic studies.
A lively discussion ensued led by Professor Tamara Sonn who elaborated on the difference between the concept of “religion” in American academic discourse and the concept of “Deen” in Islam. Professor Mumtaz Ahmad presented a different viewpoint regarding the “prejudice” against Islam in academic discourse, arguing that such prejudice is symptomatic to American academic culture and is found in different disciplines – and different forms -, sometimes against – or for – certain methods of doing research. He gave the example of the bias for quantitative methods in Political Science in certain universities during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The discussion presented a live example to participants of the free scholarly exchange that institutions such as IIIT provide to Muslim and non-Muslim scholars. At the end of the program,Tamara Sonn, the Program Director, thanked IIIT for its hospitality and for the rich discussion which provided an excellent start for their two weeks visit to the US.
Photos on Flickr