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"The Muslim Georgetown"
October 1, 2009 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Zaytuna College in Berkeley, CA will accept its first students in the fall of 2010 or 2011. Founded by Sheik Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir, it will be the first accredited Islamic college in the United States, open to men and women of all religions.
posted by escabeche (60 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Isn't it a little misleading to refer to Zaytuna as accredited? That process (as the Guardian article points out) takes several years.

That being said - I'm surprised there aren't more institutions like this in the US, given our established & growing population of Muslims, and given the historical emphasis on scholarship from Islamic and pre-Islamic Arab cultures. Best of luck to them.
posted by contessa at 6:26 PM on October 1, 2009


Do Islamic universities teach evolution or intelligent design?
posted by billysumday at 6:32 PM on October 1, 2009


Yes, as contessa says, you can't just start out accredited. You have to apply and be evaluated, and it's a long process. It's certainly most likely that Zaytuna will be the first accredited Islamic college in the US, but it's possible that another institution might pip them at the post.

Do Islamic universities teach evolution or intelligent design?

The Saudi universities teach evolution, much to the dismay of some imams.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:37 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Do Islamic universities teach evolution or intelligent design?

One would hope that, just like secular universities, they teach both.
posted by napkin at 6:40 PM on October 1, 2009


One would hope that, just like secular universities, they teach both.

I think billysumday meant "in the biology classes." Obviously, creationism and intelligent design are worthy topics of discussion in sociology and history and comparative religion classes.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:42 PM on October 1, 2009


"We see no dichotomy between what is called 'secular' and 'religious' in the modern world."

That is why you fail.
posted by nzero at 7:05 PM on October 1, 2009


Sidhedevil: The Saudi universities teach evolution, much to the dismay of some imams.

Did you read the link you gave there? Brash young clerics from that cultural wasteland that is Saudi Arabia are not Imams. That's a pretty big distinction. What's more, it ought to be noted that throughout the Muslim world evolution (and scientific discovery in general) is commonly seen as something friendly to religion and well worth embracing. Given the Koran's stance on the Torah, Muslims—even devout, 'orthodox' Muslims—have little difficulty believing that the Torah is often metaphorical. For what it's worth, neither do orthodox Jews.

The idea that all religious people are ignorant jerkoffs sometimes seems as superstitious as the most ridiculous cultishness—but I can't really blame anyone for feeling that way, given the current 'religious' climate in the US and the insanity of American 'christianity.' For future reference, however, it's worth remembering this—Saudi Arabia is the America of the Muslim world: wealthy, consumerist, corrupt, crude and backward in its belief systems and its approaches to faith. As in the US, this tends to make religious people in Saudi Arabia hysterical and paranoid beyond belief that someone, somewhere is contravening their religion. That's why you'll find young clerics there who say such silly stuff. Oddly, as repressive as it can be, the political climate in Iran encourages a good deal more intellectual and spiritual contemplation, if only in the people that rise up to oppose it; there's little cure, however, for a fat, greedy, lazy, corrupt society with too much money and no idea how to spend it nobly.
posted by koeselitz at 7:08 PM on October 1, 2009 [12 favorites]


from the Guardian article linked under "the first accredited...": The brochure states: "We see no dichotomy between what is called 'secular' and 'religious' in the modern world. We believe our students will be able to contextualise Islamic knowledge in a dynamic and productive way."

nzero: That is why you fail.

?
posted by koeselitz at 7:11 PM on October 1, 2009


I can hear the panties bunching at Free Republic already.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:11 PM on October 1, 2009


In other words: yes, they will probably teach EVOLUTION in their classrooms - most Muslim universities around the world ALREADY DO.<>
posted by koeselitz at 7:13 PM on October 1, 2009


Oh man, for a while I wasn't logged in and there's an ad at the bottom for an online marriage service for finding available Muslim women anywhere in the world. I have to say, there are many beautiful women in Iraq... but alas, I am broke, a Jew, and not really looking to get married...
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 7:14 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's nothing, PostIrony. Before I joined, I was seeing those on threads about suicide bombings.
posted by Decimask at 7:24 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Islam tends to be pretty down with education. As it says in the Quran, "The ink of the scholar and the blood of a martyr are of equal value in heaven.” I hope things go well. Sadly, there already seems to be lots of opportunities for misunderstanding and stereotyping.
posted by Go Banana at 7:27 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


My question about evolution vs. intelligent design was one of true interest. My assumption would be that an Islamic university may not have the best biology/science curriculum because of the sticky wicket that is religious doctrine, but obviously I could be wrong. The Catholic Church apparently has reconciled the two, so perhaps Islam has, as well. From what I've read I don't/didn't think that is the case. I do find it odd that so many progressives immediately see this and go "Cool! I bet this'll make them Republicans mad!!" Such a weird reaction. I guess the calculus is: Christian colleges - boo!; Islamic colleges - yay!; but honestly, I just don't get it.
posted by billysumday at 7:28 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sounds more like a madrasa islamiyyah than a madrasa jami'ah.
posted by clockzero at 7:43 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Did you read the link you gave there? Brash young clerics from that cultural wasteland that is Saudi Arabia are not Imams.

ummm... I think that the comment about imams was in reference to this (from the article):

A senior Saudi cleric said religious scholars should vet the curriculum at the kingdom’s only co-educational university, meant to be a beacon of science, to prevent “alien ideologies” such as evolution.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:44 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


You wouldn't be able to tell from the linked articles, but there are few people out there who have more depth in and more love for the canon of Western thought than Yusuf, one of the founders noted in the intro. Without exaggeration, of all the academics or others I've met, I can only think of Edward Said and one or two others. He seems pretty well-suited for this. It's probably largely a question of whether they can get enough funding.
posted by zerzura at 8:05 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess the calculus is: Christian colleges - boo!; Islamic colleges - yay!; but honestly, I just don't get it.

When a bunch of Bob Jones-style scholars make notable contributions to logic, philosophy, mathematics and the (real) sciences, there might be reason for a bit more excitement.
posted by contessa at 8:13 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The Muslim Georgetown"

Georgetown is about as religious as, say, Boston College, Fordham, or perhaps Seattle University. This place seems like it will be more like a Muslim BYU.
posted by armage at 8:16 PM on October 1, 2009


intelligent design doesn't deserve to be taught anywhere except in creative fiction class.
posted by edgeways at 8:40 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


me: Did you read the link you gave there? Brash young clerics from that cultural wasteland that is Saudi Arabia are not Imams.

The Light Fantastic: ummm... I think that the comment about imams was in reference to this (from the article): "A senior Saudi cleric said religious scholars should vet the curriculum at the kingdom’s only co-educational university, meant to be a beacon of science, to prevent “alien ideologies” such as evolution."

I don't understand. Do you see the word 'Imam' in that sentence that you quoted? I don't.

Saudi Arabia may be a largely Sunni country, and to Sunnis 'Imam' doesn't quite mean what it does to Shiites, but to be an Imam he'd still have to be in a leadership role of some kind, running a mosque for example. 'Senior cleric' suggests to me that he's one of those Saudi political advisor type people who are the equivalent of people in think-tanks here; to a large degree their whole job is to say provocative and interesting things. We've got all kinds of loudmouthed scholars over here, and very few of them even come close to representing the beliefs of the public at large or of our leaders.
posted by koeselitz at 9:03 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Georgetown is about as religious as, say, Boston College, Fordham, or perhaps Seattle University. This place seems like it will be more like a Muslim BYU.

When I first read that tagline I immediately thought that they were just trying to make a collegiate comparison much like "Public Ivy" or "['elite college'] of the [region]". That's funny that the religious angle in citing Georgetown didn't come up for me until I read your comment. Few people I know would be able to associate Georgetown or any of the "top" Jesuit schools in a religious sense before academic reputation, but I suppose that comes as something of a consequence of being "top tier" (and college rankings being somewhat blindly disseminated by people, etc.).
posted by zer0render at 9:12 PM on October 1, 2009


billysumday: My assumption would be that an Islamic university may not have the best biology/science curriculum because of the sticky wicket that is religious doctrine, but obviously I could be wrong. The Catholic Church apparently has reconciled the two, so perhaps Islam has, as well.

Frankly, I've been frequently shocked at the intellectual openness of Islamic educational institutions and at some of the ideas that are bandied about there, and my experience is that they are frequently more open than the Catholic institutions I think you're talking about. Some years ago, when I was at Boston College, I saw a visiting lecturer who had once taught at the university in Tehran, a wizened older Muslim who seemed the furthest thing from a 'progressive,' who suggested that Muhammad might not have been a real prophet, and said that it was time for Muslims to start thinking about this. There were a number of older professors who had to peel their jaws off the floor after that one; far be it from a bunch of Catholics to try to convince a Muslim that Muhammad was a prophet, but what were they to do?

I really think that this has to do with two things: first, Islam is a more intellectual religion than the other two Western versions of monotheism; its central text is not an account of miracles done or even of prophetic predictions of the future but of what is supposed to be a human being channeling the divine. It emphasizes the ideas of faith, rather than the experience of it or the duty to it. This is not to say that it doesn't have anti-intellectual elements - it's impossible to ignore those - but only that there is something intellectual at its core. Second, being more bold and outward about its political ambitions, Islam is more confident in itself; and one thing which we Westerners often don't realize, being used to our shivering, quaking Christian heritage which is at turns meek and mild and angry and arrogant, is that a strong tradition can be a framework, a peaceful arrangement of things, within which there is often more freedom to really contemplate the world.
posted by koeselitz at 9:17 PM on October 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


....but there are few people out there who have more depth in and more love for the canon of Western thought than Yusuf... Edward Said and one or two others.

Edward Said was NOT Muslim. He was from a Palestinian Christian background.
posted by Faze at 9:22 PM on October 1, 2009


Islam is a more intellectual religion than the other two Western versions of monotheism;

I don't know man there are a lot of thinky Jews out there
posted by kathrineg at 9:39 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Edward Said was NOT Muslim. He was from a Palestinian Christian background.

Did somebody say he was a Muslim?
posted by escabeche at 10:15 PM on October 1, 2009


Islam is a more intellectual religion than the other two Western versions of monotheism; its central text is not an account of miracles done or even of prophetic predictions of the future.....

It's text may be more "intellectual" in the sense that it directly talks about more interesting things than the number of calves one should kill for sacrifice or who Job begat , but are you seriously telling me that the discursive analysis of the torah and tnach,the midrashim, arguably the origin of Western Legal Culture, the many layered peeling back of the onion that is supposedly god's word with is not-intellectual?

I defy you to find a more maddening, hyper-legalistic, yet deep and profound wellspring of legal and reasoned thought, than the exegeses of the torah put forth in the midrashim.

From the wikipedia article:

Presence of apparently superfluous words or letters, chronology of events, parallel narratives or other textual anomalies are often a springboard for interpretation of segments of Biblical text. In many cases, a dialogue is expanded manifold: handfuls of lines in the Biblical narrative may become long philosophical discussions.


There are whole treatises from multiple rabbonim on why particular individual sentences were worded the way they were.

posted by lalochezia at 10:36 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


While there may be specific instances where one tradition is more open than another each monotheistic tradition is too old and too multifaceted to make simplistic, universal statements like "Islam is a more intellectual religion than the other two Western versions of monotheism." Such a statement sounds more like the romanticization of "the other" or an apologetical assertion by a believer.

The second paragraph of your last comment is I believe a bit of an overreach koeselitz. I think it begins by confusing Islam with the Quran, neglects the fact that the Quran is usually read in accordance with or along side of the Hadith and general cultural traditions. Lalochezia has already highlighted Judaism but Christianity from day 1 has been nothing if not rife with intellectual argument about the role of Jewish law, Christology, etc. As soon as any Jew tried to reconcile saying "Jesus is Lord" with the Shema the intellectual game was on.

Granted Islam has been more political. It's spread was enabled, if not actually at the point of the sword, by the domination of the Muslim state(s) that followed the conquests. Christianity did not gain the benefit of state apparatus until three centuries had passed. It grew up either apolitically or in antipathy with the political culture. While Muslims may believe in the ultimate (spiritual) conquest of Islam over the world, I would suggest the Muslim world's subjugation under colonialism and it's encounter with modernity and The West has elicited resentments, insecurities and fundamentalist reactions that are anything but confident.

Your description of Christianity's heritage is just wrong and displays a personal view or experience that is out of line with the vast majority of the facts. It completely omits the thousand years of Christendom in the West, the temerity and terrors of Christianity's subsequent Reformation, its spurning, wrangling and/or embrace of the Enlightenment and the bravado with which missionaries accompanied explorers and colonizers. Throughout all of this there has been a continuously vigorous intellectual life that has proven itself a more than adequate position to contemplate the world from, and it has in fact far from being "shivering and quaking" has (for good or ill) been the dominant place to contemplate the world from.
posted by MasonDixon at 1:00 AM on October 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


kathrineg: I don't know man there are a lot of thinky Jews out there

lalochezia: It's text may be more "intellectual" in the sense that it directly talks about more interesting things than the number of calves one should kill for sacrifice or who Job begat , but are you seriously telling me that the discursive analysis of the torah and tnach,the midrashim, arguably the origin of Western Legal Culture, the many layered peeling back of the onion that is supposedly god's word with is not-intellectual?

And the writings of all the rabbis, of Judah Ha'alevi, of RaMBaM, of Albo and Abravanel, and of hundreds and even thousands of others, yes: a broad and intensely intellectual tradition well worth digging deeply into. I regret implying otherwise; my apologies. I only mean to indicate something I don't believe many of us appreciate: the intellectual depth of Islam. Furthermore, I was trying to draw a distinction which I do believe exists between Christianity on the one hand and Islam and Judaism on the other; more on that below.

MasonDixon: While there may be specific instances where one tradition is more open than another each monotheistic tradition is too old and too multifaceted to make simplistic, universal statements like "Islam is a more intellectual religion than the other two Western versions of monotheism." Such a statement sounds more like the romanticization of "the other" or an apologetical assertion by a believer.

Make it the latter, then, but if you call me apologetic, don't think I'm saying I'm sorry for being what I am.

The second paragraph of your last comment is I believe a bit of an overreach koeselitz. I think it begins by confusing Islam with the Quran, neglects the fact that the Quran is usually read in accordance with or along side of the Hadith and general cultural traditions. Lalochezia has already highlighted Judaism but Christianity from day 1 has been nothing if not rife with intellectual argument about the role of Jewish law, Christology, etc. As soon as any Jew tried to reconcile saying "Jesus is Lord" with the Shema the intellectual game was on.

I can make this statement, I think, without being afraid to defend it: I believe that Christianity is less intellectual on the whole than Judaism or Islam. Please understand one other thing, as well: I am a Christian, by profession and by affiliation; and I revere our tradition highly.When I say that that tradition is 'less intellectual' I also mean that, while there are mystics within every tradition (some might say at the heart of every tradition) I believe that Christianity is more mystical than either Judaism or Islam, at least as it is commonly practiced.

To try to illustrate this: I was talking to a Jewish friend of mine a few weeks ago, and he commented that churches make him feel somehow uncomfortable in a way that synagogues and mosques don't; the easiest way he could explain this was to say that going to synagogue feels like class to him, as though the purpose is to gather in order to learn; whereas church is somehow an initiatory ritual: the eucharist, the intoning of the right words at the right time... Christianity, I think, emphasizes the mystical and ritualistic nature of the truth - or it makes that mystical and ritualistic thing which is interior to the other faiths an external and outward reality. I believe this has something to do with the inversion at the heart of Christianity, which relentlessly makes the inner outer and makes the outer inner, replacing the absolute with the limited and the limited with the absolute; from the Christ's parables to his strangely stunning and confusing effect on the wise to his very existence, Christianity is a faith that makes the esoteric exoteric and the exoteric esoteric.

Granted Islam has been more political. It's spread was enabled, if not actually at the point of the sword, by the domination of the Muslim state(s) that followed the conquests. Christianity did not gain the benefit of state apparatus until three centuries had passed. It grew up either apolitically or in antipathy with the political culture. While Muslims may believe in the ultimate (spiritual) conquest of Islam over the world, I would suggest the Muslim world's subjugation under colonialism and it's encounter with modernity and The West has elicited resentments, insecurities and fundamentalist reactions that are anything but confident.

And indeed the state apparatus has never really been a benefit to Christianity; lest we forget, this was settled quite definitively by The Grand Inquisitor. Christianity has never precisely been a faith of rulership, of political sovereignty; we encourage the high to make themselves low, the powerful to bow down. In a strange way we are ripe for democratic movements; since ours is a faith not of kings but of kingdoms, we prefer the kingdom without the king. It must have seemed lucky to Spinoza when he was laying the first seeds for the doctrine of the separation of Church and State, which makes more sense to a Christian than a Muslim any day.

However, I think you're selling the Muslim world short. Muslims remember; they remember the times when they were in control of vast lands, and (more than that) they remember when their civilization did great things. Moreover Muslims have an uncanny knack for remembering precisely those good moments that can be carried into the future; in a sense, western colonialism never really did conquer the Muslim world.

What's more, I sense at the heart of Islam more than at the heart of Christianity or Judaism a desire and even a practice of the notion of serenity, a practice which is almost far eastern to us. Maybe I've just read too many Sufis, but I see it in Muhammad's teachings as well, an encouragement of that serene mindfulness that comes from confidence. You sound like you're assessing Islam as a threat; I don't believe that's wise.

Your description of Christianity's heritage is just wrong and displays a personal view or experience that is out of line with the vast majority of the facts. It completely omits the thousand years of Christendom in the West, the temerity and terrors of Christianity's subsequent Reformation, its spurning, wrangling and/or embrace of the Enlightenment and the bravado with which missionaries accompanied explorers and colonizers. Throughout all of this there has been a continuously vigorous intellectual life that has proven itself a more than adequate position to contemplate the world from, and it has in fact far from being "shivering and quaking" has (for good or ill) been the dominant place to contemplate the world from.

I'm still skeptical. My description above wasn't intended to cover the whole Christian tradition but what we are used to, i.e. the tradition as it has been since the Protestant Revolution. I have a hard time seeing much intellectual value in the tradition at large at all since the vile racist Luther nailed his demands on the door. I can think of only one major intellectual event within Christianity since that time that indicates to me that there is a healthy climate of thoughtfulness to be had in all this: the collation and publication of the Philokalia in 1782.

Moreover, starting with Luther, it's been debatable whether this tradition from which we contemplate things has been Christian at all. I don't think the success of the colonial west can be pinned on Christianity; in fact, I think it can be pinned on those bold souls who followed Machiavelli, Hobbes and Spinoza into the breach and remade the world in a secular orbit. In an important sense, whilst Islam has lay under the bonds of colonial subjugation, Christianity has lain in the same condition; the only difference is that Christianity has been more thoroughly routed, having been in many quarters replaced with a strange perversion of itself.
posted by koeselitz at 2:32 AM on October 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


I'd meant to mention this:

When I made my comment that Islam is 'more intellectual,' I had in mind an interesting comment that the Sufi mystic Frithjof Schuon once made: he stated that in the great tradition Judaism represented the Father, Christianity the Son, and Islam the Holy Spirit. While this seems a little too neat, and while Schuon of course managed to piss off a lot of people from all three religions with that one statement, I find it often is a very revealing motto to keep in mind, and there is a way in which it characterizes the three faiths well.
posted by koeselitz at 2:37 AM on October 2, 2009


ThinkyJew is a good sockpuppet name.
posted by rokusan at 2:37 AM on October 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Edward Said was NOT Muslim. He was from a Palestinian Christian background.

I didn't mean to imply he was. I was just talking about academics in general. Very few of the professors I had in college seemed to have a real love for the canon. That isn't meant to denigrate them; it just is what it is.

On the other hand, others I've read or listened to, like Said or Yusuf, exude a love or enjoyment of it beyond simply understanding it.
posted by zerzura at 4:08 AM on October 2, 2009


Trying to prove that one religion is "more intellectual" than another is a fruitless endeavour. As MasonDixon pointed out, "each monotheistic tradition is too old and too multifaceted to make simplistic, universal statements" - of any kind, really. Its not that I think koeselitz's statement is wrong (ie i don't think that judaism is more intellectual than islam, or that all religions should be viewed as equally intellectual), I just think it's a statement that can't even be made. It's like saying apples are louder than novels. It makes no sense. The definition of what counts as intellectual, as what does and does not pertain to each religion will necessarily shift in order to support the argument and obtain the desired conclusion, as evidenced by the following "it's been debatable whether this tradition from which we contemplate things has been Christian at all" and "...Christianity has been more thoroughly routed, having been in many quarters replaced with a strange perversion of itself."
posted by molecicco at 5:45 AM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Saudi Arabia is the America of the Muslim world

What's the Holland of the Muslim world? (Not meant as a joke, by the way. (Well, maybe a tiny bit. But really - what is, would you say?)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:46 AM on October 2, 2009


^^ Turkey?
posted by molecicco at 5:48 AM on October 2, 2009


molecicco: Trying to prove that one religion is "more intellectual" than another is a fruitless endeavour... The definition of what counts as intellectual, as what does and does not pertain to each religion will necessarily shift in order to support the argument and obtain the desired conclusion, as evidenced by the following "it's been debatable whether this tradition from which we contemplate things has been Christian at all" and "...Christianity has been more thoroughly routed, having been in many quarters replaced with a strange perversion of itself."

What shifted?
posted by koeselitz at 6:44 AM on October 2, 2009


America is the Anerica of the Muslim world, people. There are millions of us, most of us are prosperous and practicing to some degree. And we're breeding.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:44 AM on October 2, 2009


IndigoJones: What's the Holland of the Muslim world? (Not meant as a joke, by the way. (Well, maybe a tiny bit. But really - what is, would you say?)

Maybe... uh... Egypt?
posted by koeselitz at 6:54 AM on October 2, 2009


[By the way, molecicco, you may find the definition of what counts as 'intellectual' in the fourth and fifth sections of the third book of Aristotle's treatise On The Soul.]
posted by koeselitz at 6:56 AM on October 2, 2009


What shifted?

The definition of Christianity, and what pertains to it. What is the perverted replacement? What is "true" Christianity? If the "tradition from which we contemplate things" is not Christian at all, then where does it belong to? And suddenly you only want to include only the Christian tradition "that we are used to" (what this means, I have no idea - as though the Christian tradition from the Protestant Revolution is one cohesive thing to be discussed).

And anyway, don't all of these questions apply equally to other religions? How much of the Islamic intellectual tradition will you attribute to Islam itself or to existant pre-Islamic traditions of the cultures that are today Islamic? Can one even credibly make such distinctions?

Look, I agree that a lot of people in the Western/Christian world have knee-jerk, poorly-informed reactions to the idea of Islamic scholarship. And I agree that this is a problem. So I agree with the spirit of your argument. I just think that in defending Islam from knee-jerk naysayers, you are making claims that cannot be made.
posted by molecicco at 7:08 AM on October 2, 2009


Aristotle? He didn't even speak English! So I'm (a) not going to trust his definition of the word, and (b) not going to trust you to decide whether something meets his criteria since meeting that criteria will be, ultimatley, a matter of opinion. Your opinion as to whether it does or does not meet the criteria will probably be interesting, but you can't use that to make a universal declarative statement comparing two religions with thousands of years of history between them.
posted by molecicco at 7:32 AM on October 2, 2009


molecicco: If the "tradition from which we contemplate things" is not Christian at all, then where does it belong to?

Eh - you're probably right. I haven't gotten enough sleep. What I meant there was this: I don't think it's fair to call the western world 'Christian' any longer - not fair to the vast diversity of different people who make it up now, I guess, especially considering the centrality that secularism takes.

But even a term like "the western world" is really a very vague generalization that ought to be defined but probably can't.

And suddenly you only want to include only the Christian tradition "that we are used to" (what this means, I have no idea - as though the Christian tradition from the Protestant Revolution is one cohesive thing to be discussed). And anyway, don't all of these questions apply equally to other religions? How much of the Islamic intellectual tradition will you attribute to Islam itself or to existant pre-Islamic traditions of the cultures that are today Islamic? Can one even credibly make such distinctions?

To your last question, I answer: yes. At least, I believe that a person can credibly make such distinctions. If I hadn't failed to do so, maybe I'd try now, but... well, I'll have to sleep on it.

Look, I agree that a lot of people in the Western/Christian world have knee-jerk, poorly-informed reactions to the idea of Islamic scholarship. And I agree that this is a problem. So I agree with the spirit of your argument. I just think that in defending Islam from knee-jerk naysayers, you are making claims that cannot be made.

Agreed.
posted by koeselitz at 7:39 AM on October 2, 2009


I don't think it's fair to call the western world 'Christian' any longer - not fair to the vast diversity of different people who make it up now, I guess, especially considering the centrality that secularism takes.

But even a term like "the western world" is really a very vague generalization that ought to be defined but probably can't.


Agreed 100%. I wasn't even sure if I should use the phrase, but I figured throwing in a "probably" and "most" would absolve me of the sin.
posted by molecicco at 7:42 AM on October 2, 2009


As far as Aristotle's definition of the intellect goes, though: really, it's worth taking seriously. I only say so because major representatives of the three monotheistic faiths weighed in and agreed with it: Maimonides, St Thomas Aquinas, and even al-Ghazzali, author of The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Not a small thing, but I don't really feel up to arguing it.

The word 'intellect' is part of a tradition. It's not just limited to English. It comes from the Latin which was colored by the Greek.

posted by koeselitz at 7:45 AM on October 2, 2009


I guess the calculus is: Christian colleges - boo!; Islamic colleges - yay!; but honestly, I just don't get it.

When a bunch of Bob Jones-style scholars make notable contributions to logic, philosophy, mathematics and the (real) sciences, there might be reason for a bit more excitement.


There's a difference between say, Bob Jones or Liberty U and schools like TCU or Notre Dame. And a difference still between those and Baylor or BYU.

As a hardcore agnostic, I remember being hesitant about grad school (for CS) at Notre Dame, but when I went there it was pretty much like any other grad school department.
posted by kmz at 7:50 AM on October 2, 2009


This is incredibly good news. In America's liberal arts colleges, the Orientalists currently outnumber the Muslims teaching Muslims. I bet many academics are placing a lot of hope into this university to raise a generation of Muslim intellectuals that will define their own way of life outside of the influence of Qutb, Khomeini, and Wahhabis.
posted by shii at 9:10 AM on October 2, 2009


the easiest way he could explain this was to say that going to synagogue feels like class to him, as though the purpose is to gather in order to learn; whereas church is somehow an initiatory ritual: the eucharist, the intoning of the right words at the right time...Christianity, I think, emphasizes the mystical and ritualistic nature of the truth - or it makes that mystical and ritualistic thing which is interior to the other faiths an external and outward reality.

Counterpoint: Shabbat as taken as a whole, not just the synagogue part.
posted by kathrineg at 9:46 AM on October 2, 2009


Anyway, koeselitz, I see what you're saying and I think you make some good points. I think that, as a Christian, you would be well-served by spending serious time with some friendly religious Jews as they go about their religious observances. You should find some and offer to be their גוי של שבת!
posted by kathrineg at 9:50 AM on October 2, 2009


Do Islamic universities teach evolution or intelligent design?

A Muslim scholar, Al-jahiz, proposed the theory of evolution about a millennium before Darwin.
Animals engage in a struggle for existence; for resources, to avoid being eaten and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring.
OK, so that's more Lamarckian than not. And the Book of Animals was the Origin of Species like Democritus was Dalton. But, still, I figure that's not too shabby for the 9th century. And this doesn't actually say anything in answer to the question italicized above, but I thought it was cool.
posted by Zed at 10:21 AM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's a difference between say, Bob Jones or Liberty U and schools like TCU or Notre Dame. And a difference still between those and Baylor or BYU.

Oh, naturally. I think this is probably where I, like most Americans nowadays, get fuzzy on what exactly is being referred to when the word "Christian" is invoked. It used to be a generic term covering all denominations big and small that based their theology on the NT/Jesus as Savior message. More and more it is shorthand for a specific subset of people who are non-denominational, and fall into one or a mix of the following groups: evangelical, fundamentalist, pentocostal, or charistmatic. Now, in the US at least, the connotation of the word (latter) has taken over the denotation of the word (former).

Therefore, when an institution is defined as "Christian" I think of the latter group as well, since they've almost entirely co-opted the word to have a specific meaning separate from the general one. And, honestly, when I think of the pairing "Christian" + "College" the very last thing that comes to my mind is an institution with a rich scholastic or intellectual reputation.
posted by contessa at 11:29 AM on October 2, 2009


It used to be a generic term covering all denominations big and small that based their theology on the NT/Jesus as Savior message. More and more it is shorthand for a specific subset of people who are non-denominational, and fall into one or a mix of the following groups: evangelical, fundamentalist, pentocostal, or charistmatic.

No, it's still pretty generic. Now, groups within Christianity will circumscribe those whom they think are "Christian," but that doesn't contradict the generic term itself.

I know using the term "Christian" is very confusing to people outside of Christendom, as has been evidenced. Christian Children's Fund for years has toyed with getting a new name, because they aren't "Christian" in the way non-believers think it's defined -- that is, the Falwell-esque fundamentalism -- but just generally "Christian" as in "that's our heritage." The YWCA has been in the same position.

But to say it's "shorthand for a specific subset of people" is a bit like saying that "New Yorker" is a shorthand for boorish Yankees fans. And to lump the fundamentalist Bible colleges like Bob Jones in with places like Georgetown or Rhodes College or Baylor is pretty much the same thing.

Don't let the truthiness of a few override the real meaning of the term.
posted by dw at 1:23 PM on October 2, 2009


And to lump the fundamentalist Bible colleges like Bob Jones in with places like Georgetown or Rhodes College or Baylor is pretty much the same thing.

I would never dream of doing that; I guess that was basically my point, and we are also saying essentially the same thing.

However it's quite clear you don't live in the South where - and I guess you're just going to have to trust me on this - when somebody says "I'm a Christian" or "I go to a Christian church" or "I attend a Christian college" it means a very specific sort of thing that it didn't mean 15 or even 20 years ago, and there's perfect understanding that they do not mean "I'm a Lutheran" or "I go to an Episcopal church," or "I attend Georgetown University."

There's definitely a regional thing at play here as well.
posted by contessa at 1:37 PM on October 2, 2009


....but there are few people out there who have more depth in and more love for the canon of Western thought than Yusuf... Edward Said and one or two others.

Although I wish this university all the best, putting Mr. Yusuf on the level of Edward Said is laughable. While Said wrote, published, and worked within rigorous academic standards, I personally have heard Mr. Yusuf say some of the most ridiculous statements to come out of anyone besides Glenn Beck's mouth: things like likening the "www" in a web address to 666 based on the 'waw' letter being 6th in the aramaic alphabet, to calling TV the antichrist.

Admittedly those were all said over ten years ago, so I really hope, for the sake of the students in this uni, that he's changed his tune.
posted by cuetip at 1:47 PM on October 2, 2009


Admittedly those were all said over ten years ago, so I really hope, for the sake of the students in this uni, that he's changed his tune.

Just before 9/11 he seriously scaled back his screeds and now he mainly focuses on elucidating aspects of the religion as it has always been transmitted, and also teaches about the history of transmission. He's pretty well suited for this current role. There are other convert teachers who are much better, in my opinion, but he has a kind of broad appeal that is very tangible.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:51 PM on October 2, 2009


kathrineg: Anyway, koeselitz, I see what you're saying and I think you make some good points. I think that, as a Christian, you would be well-served by spending serious time with some friendly religious Jews as they go about their religious observances. You should find some and offer to be their גוי של שבת!

Two of my closest friends are Jewish. One of them is Orthodox.

I really wish people would quit thinking that saying something is more or less 'intellectual' is supposed to be a criticism or an insult. Differences aren't necessarily supposed be a source of contention. You seem to think that I should be saying that Judaism is exactly the same as Christianity. Is that really what you think?
posted by koeselitz at 7:41 PM on October 2, 2009


shii: In America's liberal arts colleges, the Orientalists...

The who?
posted by koeselitz at 7:45 PM on October 2, 2009


The who?

Orientalists are interested in some aspects of traditional Islamic culture but are generally seen by Islamic scholars as secularists who downplay the centrality of God. They are also sometimes reviled as substandard translators.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:13 PM on October 2, 2009


koeselitz: "I really wish people would quit thinking that saying something is more or less 'intellectual' is supposed to be a criticism or an insult. Differences aren't necessarily supposed be a source of contention. You seem to think that I should be saying that Judaism is exactly the same as Christianity. Is that really what you think?"

See, Christians worship like this and Jews worship like that.

I think my tone is lighthearted enough for you to realize that I take no offense. I'm starting to take offense now, at your seemingly willful mischaracterization of my statements.

I mean, damn, I told you to go be someone's shabbas goy and I said that Jews were "thinky." I didn't even reference Maimonides or any of that heavy shit. Sorry I bruised your ego by not psychically intuiting your multiple Jewish friends (who are, of course, representative of all Jews everywhere).

And your statements shouldn't be a bone of contention? Really? What the hell do you expect when you start talking about the characteristics of other people's religions in a shallow way? People disagree with you and want to have a friendly argument about it. Big surprise, dude.
posted by kathrineg at 10:26 PM on October 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Didn't realize my characterizations were shallow, but they really were. Sorry.
posted by koeselitz at 6:33 AM on October 3, 2009


This whole thing started with me getting accused by Christians of characterizing Christianity in an insulting way - hell, maybe I was - so I guess I got defensive and just didn't quit. Again, sorry.
posted by koeselitz at 6:35 AM on October 3, 2009


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