I recently listened to a show from “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” a sister program to Inside Islam’s Here on Earth on Wisconsin Public Radio. The show titled “Reclaiming Islam” aired on June 12th, 2009, and featured a number of interesting guests: Reza Aslan, Tissa Hami, Christopher Caldwell, Youssou N’Dour & Chai Vasarhelyi, and Kamran Pasha (who will be joining Inside Islam on July 21st). I was impressed by both the vastness of the content and the coherence of the idea that underlay all of the guests’ contributions: the diversity of how Muslims relate to Islam. Echoing our message here on Inside Islam, “To the Best of Our Knowledge” nicely showed that there is no one manifestation of Islam and no one medium to explore what it means to be Muslim.
“Reclaiming Islam” illustrated that to begin to understand the role of Islam in the world one must engage the myriad expressions of the believers. Through a discussion with Reza Aslan, author of How to Win A Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the War on Terror, on President Obama’s historic speech in Cairo, important issues were raised about the concerns of Muslims worldwide–what are their grievances and calls for change–and the need to move away from viewing the world in terms of a clash of civilizations. Christopher Caldwell, author of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, added to the discussion by confronting this “clash” through the issue of Muslim immigration to Europe and what it will mean for the future of Europe. More specifically, though, Caldwell examined the role of Muslim Europeans from their perspectives as citizens who are choosing how to express their numerous identities–including their European identities–in secular societies.
The discussion, however, was not limited to a political framework, recognizing that some of the most insightful windows into expressions of faith are often through the arts (comedy, music, and literature). With Tissa Hami, one of a handful of Muslim women standup comics, listeners learned about the importance of laughter as a means to address stereotypes. Her “Ramadan Song” alone will make anyone laugh! With Youssou N’Dour’s 2005 album “Egypt“, the audience heard one musician’s attempt to share the peace, tolerance, and beauty of Islam with the world; an Islam that has shaped who he is as a person. (N’Dour was featured in one of Inside Islam’s films during the recent Wisconsin Film Festival.) Finally, the show ended with Kamran Pasha’s novel Mother of the Believers, the story of Ayesha, the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad. It was appropriate to end the show with the story of Islam told through the eye’s of Ayesha, who is considered to be one of the most influential women in Islamic history and continues to be a symbol for Muslim women worldwide.
“Reclaiming Islam” on To the Best of Our Knowledge shed more light on the complexity of what it means to be Muslim, and that alone deserves recognition.