Sherman Jackson has little use for decorative wall art.

There isn’t much need when nearly every inch of wall space in his corner office at the University of Michigan’s Thayer Building is covered with volumes of religious texts, Islamic law, and commentaries on theology.

On the wall just inside the door frame hangs a document representing what some are calling a watershed moment in Muslim American history, a reference that draws a reflective and immediate smile from Jackson.

Jackson was among 20 Muslim activists, academics, and spiritual leaders from around the state to recently sign a code of honor. They have pledged to promote unity and mutual respect among the religion’s different sects here while the bloody conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims continues to take its toll abroad.

“This is a wonderful achievement,” said Jackson, a Philadelphia native who converted from Christianity to Islam in the late 1970s. He is now an Islamic scholar and professor of East Asian studies at U-M.

“It’s just a start, but there was this sense of a growing need now for something like this, given what is going on in Iraq, to ensure that whatever happens in the Muslim world does not spill over into the American space in such a way that it would divide the Muslim community in America.”

Similar codes have been signed recently in California and other Muslim communities across the country.

Leaders from Muslim communities in southeast Michigan were already trying to foster better relations and interaction between Sunnis and Shiites locally when the sectarian tensions ignited more than a year ago into deadly violence nearly every day in Iraq.

The local tension was exacerbated when six Detroit-area Shiite-owned businesses and mosques were vandalized shortly after many Shiites celebrated Saddam Hussein’s execution by taking to the streets of Dearborn in January, said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.


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