The first understanding of Islam beyond stereotypes for many non-Muslims starts with a Muslim friend. That’s the case with Francis Bradley, a PhD candidate in the Department of History at UW-Madison. The personal connection with a friend from Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, not only introduced him to Muslim culture, but also played a critical role in his research and career. He sat down with me earlier this month to talk about his experience with Islam. Continue reading
Despite the fact that the vast majority of Muslims do not live in Arabic-speaking countries, Arabic is still the language of Islam. As images of the prophet Muhammad are forbidden, Islam relies heavily on language to pass down ideas and stories from generation to generation. Language is, of course, open to multiple interpretations, mistranslations, and misunderstandings. For example, jihad, literally meaning “striving in the path of God,” can be understood as both an internal struggle to live a moral and virtuous life and an external struggle against injustice and oppression. But in English, unfortunately, the word is often translated to “holy war” and implies fanatical violence against non-believers of Islam. This is just one example why an in-depth knowledge of Arabic is important to both Muslims and non-Muslims.
More and more Americans, especially young people, are realizing the critical role of the Arabic language in breaking down misperceptions about Islam and in working with Muslim communities. As a result of 9/11, enrollment in Arabic in American colleges increased by 126.5% from 2002 to 2006. This fall, 225 students are taking Arabic at UW-Madison, up from 120 students in fall 2006 and the UW’s summer Arabic language program continues to grow. Earlier this month I talked to a few students in a first-semester Arabic class to see how their perceptions of Islam and the Muslim world might differ from others. Continue reading
Religion doesn’t just live in sacred books or buildings. Religion lives in people. Therefore, I believe that one of the best ways to understand Islam is to get to know its people. Knowing few Muslims, I set out to find some and ask each of them a simple question: If you had only three words to describe Islam, what would they be? Continue reading