Women, war, hypocrites, and why I don’t talk about Islam any more

For several years following the September 11 attacks, I had the opportunity to introduce large classes (500+) of undergraduate students to the beliefs and practices of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). In most cases, my classes were 40% Muslim, 40% Hindu, 15% Christian, and 5% other. Many of my colleagues in other disciplines expressed bewilderment over the fact that so many students would want to waste their time studying religion. The answer was simple. At the most basic level, these students wanted to learn something about the culture and worldview of their fellow students. On a bigger scale, they wanted to understand what was going on in the world. What happened when I spoke in public was different matter.

Audience members wanted to know why Islam condones the oppression of women.

They wanted to know why, if Islam is a religion of peace, Muslims engaged in acts of terrorism and were carrying out a holy war against the West.

My usual response to such questions, and one that rarely satisfied the audience, was that I was there to expose them to the foundations of Islam, and its relation to Judaism and Christianity. I was not there to engage in politics, or fuel any sort of blanket hatred or condemnation of 1.5 billion people, based on the acts of the few.

Faced with such negativity, I stopped responding to requests to speak about Islam. Instead, I decided to write a book about Islam and, more specifically, to write about the Qur’an. Surely, I thought, if people would take a bit of time to learn about the very foundation of this faith, they would develop a more refined and tolerant view. I ended up writing two.

The first, Reading the Qur’an in English, was intended to provide English-speaking readers with a guidebook to help them as they worked their way through an English translation of Islam’s sacred scripture. The second, Women, War, & Hypocrites, provided a detailed exploration of the major themes and interpretations of the fourth chapter of the Qur’an, known as The Women (an Nisa’). Neither book sold very well, but that’s a story for another day.

It has been several years since I either lectured about Islam in the classroom, or spoke about it in public. The recent election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, however, has taken me back to a conclusion I reached years ago about the fate Islam has experienced at the hands of corrupt and powerful nations and individuals.

It is truly frightening what can happen when the powerful engage in the willful desecration, distortion, and dismissal of the sacred text that is the very foundation of their existence.

President Trump has done more in a very short period to oppress women and incite war than any religion has ever accomplished, all in the name of making America great again.

Good luck America.