Religion & Beliefs

When Do We Have to Speak Up?

Even though I’m a grad student I’m enrolled in an undergrad class that sounded interesting to me. It’s supposed to be about the history and literature of the Middle East, co-taught by a history and a literature professor. So far, … Read More

By / February 11, 2007

Even though I’m a grad student I’m enrolled in an undergrad class that sounded interesting to me. It’s supposed to be about the history and literature of the Middle East, co-taught by a history and a literature professor. So far, though, it’s been an ‘Islam is really not that bad’ class. As far as I can tell the underlying agenda of this class is to get all the rich white Christian kids in the class to see that not all Muslims are terrorists. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for educating people about religion, and I think Americans need to work as hard as possible to understand Islam because it looks like we’ll still be trying to sort things out in the Middle East a good thirty years from now. That said, sitting in class is excruciating. Our first assignment was to read a few chapters from a book called Islam Today by Akhbar S Ahmed. It only takes Ahmed ten pages to make a ridiculous claim: “Every Muslim is a fundamentalist, believing in the Quran and the Prophet.” Later he says, “For Muslims what happened in the past is important, since they live in the present with an acute awareness of their history.” Really the fastest way to piss me off is to make grandiose claims you can’t back up, like that every Muslim believes in the Quran and Prophet. Really? Every single one of the billion Muslims in the world? Wow! That’s great! And it’s so good to hear that history is important to Muslims, because it’s completely irrelevant to everybody else. Jews especially. We hate history. And last week we read City of Wrong by M. Kamel Hussein. The book is a retelling of the day of the crucifixion, and on the very first page of the text it says, “On that day the Jewish people conspired together to require from the Romans the crucifixion of Christ so that they might destroy his message.” Several times in the course of the text he refers to Jews as a “corporate entity” and a “corporate personality” which is threatened by Jesus. Even if I wasn’t offended by the blatant disregard for any understanding of the political situation that was the actual provocation for the crucifixion, the assertion that “the Jewish people” did anything makes me crazy. The Jews? That implies everyone from King Solomon to Adam Sandler. And to imagine that shepherds and lawyers and judges all came together and were like, “As Jews, we feel strongly that this ‘King of the Jews’ character has got to go,” is ludicrous. So yeah, I’ve been pretty offended by all kinds of things that go on in this class, but I’m hesitant to bring it up in class. First, because I don’t want to be the Jewish girl who’s always crying anti-Semitism. And second because if I get started talking about how a book written by a Muslim in Egypt in 1953 is hugely influenced by the animosity between Egypt and Israel at the time… well, that’s a good ten minutes that no one is learning about Islam, and even though I think it’s really important to know where this book is coming from, part of me wants to give the professors all the time possible to teach about Islam. Because isn’t it more relevant, more important, even, for someone to learn about Islam than Judaism in today’s world? What do you guys think? Should I get out my soapbox, or zip it and just scribble my wrath into the margins of my book?