College Talks About Islam
the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it became
clear that knowledge in our society about the world of Islam is
skimpy, at best. To address this problem, Columbiaís Teachers
College drew upon several relevant departments in the university
to present a one-day workshop for educators about the histories,
cultures, and current status of Muslims in a wide range of countries.
Discussion and an exchange of ideas about related curriculum development
followed the presentations.
Muslims are as diverse as the countries they come from. States
such as Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Sudan, and Iran have Muslim
majorities. India, the United States, and France are nations with
significant Muslim minorities. Several themes emerge as the end
of the Cold War and globalization, which is seen as passing them
by, affect the mood and outlook of many in the Muslim world. Feelings
of hopelessness and defeat have often led, in both majority and
minority communities, to a reactive mentality that is phobic about
modernity and focuses on roots and strict interpretation of doctrine.
The Muslim communities in a New York City Project in Columbiaís
School of International and Public Affairs reports that 600,000
Muslims reside in New York City. Of these, 42 percent are African-American,
24 percent South Asian, and 12 percent Arab. Thirty- seven nationalities
are represented including 12 from Arab-speaking countries. New
immigrants often compare New York City to the hajj, because like
the pilgrimage to Mecca, many different groups of Muslims come
together here. The city has 100 mosques, with most in Brooklyn
and the Bronx, followed by Queens and Staten Island, but 95 percent
of Muslims do not attend regularly.
It is no longer sufficient to just teach about the Five Pillars
of Islam, agreed educators at the workshop. The curriculum must
delve into history, culture, diversity, and living Islam. Concepts
of imperialism, colonialism, nationalism and authoritarianism
must be explored. Students must be helped to think critically
about the all-important events taking place around them. They
must consider whether one manís freedom fighter is another manís
terrorist, the relativist approach, or whether there is such a
thing as absolute evil.
Various organizations are developing materials to help teachers
cope with the attack and its aftermath. Columbia Universityís
Eastern Europe, Russian, and Eurasian Resource Center is dedicated
to teacher training and outreach. Op-ed pieces in newspapers such
as The New York Times present differing views. And, Educators
for Social Responsibility offers a range of aids and activities.
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