Understanding Islam Launched by Jones Knowledge Group
By Catharine Robinson
Washington, DC

 


(Left): Dr Akbar Ahmed and Mr Arif Zaffar Mansuri speak at launch of Understanding Islam. (Right): Dr Ahmed and Mr Mansuri with Jones Knowledge Team

Each day, Americans in every walk of life and of every occupation interact in some way with the world of Islam. Each of these interactions is an opportunity to build a bridge of understanding and cooperation between two of the world’s most complex and dynamic civilizations: Islam and the West. Unfortunately, many of these opportunities are approached from a perspective of ignorance, intolerance, prejudice and hate. A new program, entitled Understanding Islam, written by an esteemed team of Islamic scholars and produced by Jones Knowledge Group, hopes to give Americans and others an informed perspective from which to work with the Muslim world.
Leading the scholars who wrote the program’s content was Ambassador Akbar Ahmed. Ahmed has made it his life’s work to remedy this “clash of civilizations” by preaching tolerance and educating both Muslims and Americans alike about the value of patience and understanding. Many of the misperceptions Americans have about Islam come from simply not knowing the facts about the nature of Islam, the complexity of Muslim societies, and the many values we have in common.
Having just joined Dr. Ahmed’s office at American University this fall, I was at first overwhelmed by the enormity of his task. I realized that what Dr. Ahmed was doing was attempting to change the world: not through force, power or coercion, but through knowledge. Like many of his students and colleagues, I was soon inspired by his persistence and motivation. For decades he has been working to change ignorance into curiosity and intolerance into understanding.
Understanding Islam: An Introduction was launched at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on October 11. The online course, created by the Denver-based Jones Knowledge Group, is a valuable resource to all who want to know more about Islam. It is designed to teach a basic knowledge of the history, diversity, laws, sects and traditions of Islam to the average person. It is not designed for scholars, experts, or academics. Rather, it makes knowledge of Islam accessible to businessmen, politicians, policemen, schoolteachers, soldiers, or any other person who simply desires to know more.
The diversity of the audience at the launch exemplified the broad appeal of the course. Every seat in the house was filled with a diverse mix of Muslim leaders, television and radio broadcasters, representatives from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Army, members of Congress, and a good number of interested American public.
At its release, Ahmed spoke about the importance of dialogue. “The chasm has grown, and the temperature is rising… if we fail to generate dialogue, we are hurtling toward a confrontation.” Mr. Arif Zaffar Mansuri, a widely respected activist for the Muslim community and the owner of the Pakistan Link, was also on the panel. Under Mr. Mansuri’s guidance, the Pakistan Link has become an active participant in encouraging dialogue and understanding between Islam and the West.


Arif Zaffar Mansuri speaks at the
National Press Club in Washington, DC

“There are grave misperceptions,” Mr. Mansuri remarked, “so we must engage intelligently.”
Jacqui Fogg, the creator of the program, also spoke about how she came to be interested in learning about Islam. A middle-school teacher, she was angered and upset after 9/11. Like many Americans she felt a deep resentment towards those who had planned the attacks — an ambiguous enemy few knew much about at the time. One day in class her misdirected hatred and ignorance was revealed when she accused one of her Muslim students of being a terrorist. After seeing the hurt that the comment caused the boy, Jackie became determined to learn more about Islam so that such an incident would never again take place. She wanted to stop being part of the problem, and start being part of the solution. Now she is proud to say that she is the creator of the Understanding Islam program, a program that she hopes will help other people like her approach their interactions with the Muslim world from a basis of knowledge and informed respect.
The program consists of six units. Each unit consists of an overview of the topic, followed by a brief quiz to help the learner identify which points he or she knows and which he or she needs to go over again. The final unit provides a summary by giving several real-life scenarios. This program is to be the first in the Jones Cultural Diversity Series, designed to teach equal appreciation and respect for many of the world’s diverse cultures.
Concluding the launch event, one of the co-writers of the program, Frankie Martin, spoke about his experiences with interfaith dialogue. He had just finished touring many countries in the Muslim world with Ahmed while researching for Ahmed’s latest book, Journey Into Islam. While interviewing Muslims in India, Pakistan, and the Middle East, Frankie asked, “What, in your view, is the currently the biggest threat to Islam?” The large majority responded, “The perception of Islam in America.” Hailey Woldt, a student at Georgetown University, also traveled with Ahmed and assisted in writing the content for the Understanding Islam. She finished the event by emphasizing that it has never been more important for Americans to show that understanding and respect is something America values, too.
As a student, I often feel frustrated with how little many Americans — even Americans in positions of power — know about Islam. Understanding Islam is an accessible, informative tool for teaching people about the history and origins of the Islamic faith. It is especially relevant because the relationship between the diverse world of Islam and that of the West is one of the most volatile issues in world politics today. Only mutual understanding and knowledge of other cultures and perspectives can “lower the temperature” of the escalating world conflict and avoid a clash between these two great civilizations.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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