View from the Pew
UH beefs up Islamic studies curriculum
Curiosity is a good thing, especially if it sets off a search for knowledge and understanding rather than fuel for violence and prejudice.
All of those outcomes have led people to seek answers and insight about Muslims in this decade of characterizing life on the globe as us versus them. How's that search going globally? That's for higher authorities in charge of achieving peace to answer.
What we can report from Hawaii is that a lot of earnest people have been trying to learn about that religion and its believers. A few of them felt they were dissed in an earlier "View" for attending a Christian group's course on Islam that had a clear proselytizing spin. "Where can we go to learn?" they asked.
Hundreds of students have found the answer in a smattering of courses available at the University of Hawaii and community colleges. The opportunity is there for people in the free senior citizen noncredit program as well as for registered UH students.
There is so much interest that a new position has been created for a professor of Islamic studies in the Religion Department, and a proposal is in the works to create an Islamic studies certificate for which students would qualify by taking a certain number of credits.
The History Department offers Introduction to Islamic Teaching, which, according to professor Elton Daniel, "looks into sources of ethical thought and ethical values in Islam." Next semester he will teach "Crisis and Conflict in the Modern Middle East." Professor Tamara Albertini is teaching Introduction to Islamic Philosophy this semester. The survey course on world religions will get to chapters on Islam late in the semester, said professor Helen Baroni, chairwoman of the Religion Department.
Islamic History and Culture is listed in the Leeward Community College catalog for the third year, but it was canceled for lack of enrollment. Professor Abdul Karim Khan said the interest has been high. What didn't work was scheduling it for Saturday mornings, he said, and it will go back on a weekday schedule.
Also on the Manoa campus, courses on the Middle East are taught by professor Ibrahim Aoude in the Ethnic Studies Department. Islamic Art is in the catalog, and Islamic music is included in a course on Music of the Philippines taught in the School of Hawaiian, Asian and Pacific Studies.
"After 9/11 there was a big spike in interest," said Lee Putnam, who coordinates the Senior Visiting Program. "Over the years, a lot of senior students have taken classes on Islam, and there are at least 20 people this semester."
People qualify for the tuition-free program when they reach 60. For information, call the Office of Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity, 956-4642, or write firstname.lastname@example.org.
Albertini said her philosophy class had a small enrollment in the past, but "that changed dramatically after Sept. 11 (2001). There is definitely more interest after the terrorist attack, and sustained interest because of the Middle East situation.
"My Islamic class gets all the aficionados, people who want to know about Islam."
She said she will propose an Islamic studies certificate program, which is less than a minor but would recognize a student for taking several courses in the subject.
"I get military students," said Albertini. "Unfortunately, I don't get them before they are sent to Islamic countries. I get them when they are back and realize they could use the information. I wish the military had something out there in terms of preparation, something about the culture, religion and mentality" they will face in the Middle East.
Daniel said the history course draws students for "a variety of reasons. People take the course who will teach social studies in high school; some take it to fulfill the ethics requirement. Some are motivated out of curiosity after 9/11."
The new position for a professor of Islamic studies was sought for three years before it was approved, Baroni said. "It will be hard to fill because qualified people are in big demand everywhere."
Khan said, "Some students have come with religious animosity. Some came with perceived notions from the media. I gave them liberty to do research on their own." He said their study gave students the "acquisition of new knowledge and the disappearance of the old distortions that they had. That's the happy note on which it ends."
Baroni described the study of Islam -- or any subject -- in the academic context: "It's as un-spun as we can manage. That's the goal."