A new Alaska Pacific University project is giving Alaskans an opportunity to study and discuss Muslim culture.
"Engaging Muslims: Religion, Cultures, Politics" is the work of Regina Boisclair, Cardinal Newman Chair of Catholic Theology at APU -- along with UAA, Wayland Baptist University, the Islamic Community Center of Anchorage Alaska and others.
The Newman Chair received a $300,000 grant from Larry and Wilma Carr to develop a program on religion and public life.
To decide how to spend the money, Boisclair and others met with members of the Anchorage religious community to select a topic. The project kicked off in August with a series of standing-room-only lectures by John Borelli, an expert in interreligious dialogue from Georgetown University.
"We wanted to get the community to start thinking about how to work this into their yearlong programming," project director Mary-Margaret Stein said of the fall lectures. "There was almost a sigh of relief that someone is ready to start talking about this."
Recently, Boisclair talked about the project in her office in Grant Hall on the APU campus. Her comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Q. What spurred you to develop this project?
A. We're at war in two Muslim countries, we have a growing Muslim population in the United States. Islam, if it isn't already, is close to being the second-largest religion in the United States. We have a large community of Muslims in Anchorage, and we have no Muslim scholars or scholars of Islam in this state. It seemed appropriate to use this money on ... something we don't have the resources to put together ourselves locally on a topic that is never going to go away.
Q. Why is it important for the general public to understand Islam?
A. So that they don't go around thinking Muslims worship another god, so they don't go around thinking these people are evil, so they come to recognize that the Muslim world condemns terrorism.
Westerners have a long history of prejudice, suspicion and fear of Islam going back thousands of years. But Islam is part of the of the family tradition -- it's one of the three Middle Eastern monotheisms, of which Judaism and Christianity are the others. They all have one god, anointed humans, sacred texts, community who observe prayer, fasting and alms-giving and go on pilgrimage. What we have is difficulties in the family. (MORE)