Benefit Dinner for SJ University Chair of Islamic Studies
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

With the pseudo or self-proclaimed experts on Islam spreading Islamophobia in the post-9/11 America it is crucial for the Muslim community to establish Islamic Studies chairs like the one planned at the San Jose State University to project a positive, unbiased and unprejudiced image of Islam. This was the message emphasized by John L. Esposito, Professor of Religion, International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, who was the keynote speaker at the Benefit Dinner for San Jose State University Endowed Chair of Islamic Studies.

It reminded me of Professor Esposito's remarks earlier this year at the Islamic Center of North America (ICNA) fundraiser in Santa Clara where he told the audience that the educational level of the Muslim community in America was at par with that of the Jewish community but it lacked in spending money to counter its negative image.

According to a report by the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) more than three dozen organizations were promoting anti-Islam prejudice in America. These groups are well funded. Anti-Islam groups received more than $119 million in funding between 2008 and 2011, according to the CAIR report on Islamophobia.

The American Muslim community has a daunting task to challenge anti-Islam bigotry. Recognizing the increased need for accurate, objective knowledge and scholarship of Islam, the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), chaired by Dr Agha Saeed, pioneered the project to set up an Endowed Chair for Islamic Studies at the San Jose State University. It will be the first of its kind within the California State University system.

Prof. Lisette Poole, co-chair of the Endowment, provided an overview of the project.

One million dollars are required to establish an Endowed Chair for Islamic Studies that teaches and develops a program for large audience in classroom and Online. Three million dollars are needed to establish the Endowed Chair devoted full-time to an Islamic Studies program while five million dollars are required to establish a full-fledged Islamic Studies Department. Once established, the program can be accessible online.

It may be pointed out that many programs in Islamic Studies focus on the Middle East and the Arab world. However, San José State’s program will pursue a global approach to the study of Islam—and will incorporate the vital con- SJSU’s program in comparative religious studies; the new Islamic Studies program will include perspectives from all corners of the Muslim world, including Muslim communities in Europe and the Americas.

Given the strong Muslim representation within the surrounding community, efforts will be made over time to develop specialized programs and collections that focus on relevant themes, such as the contributions of Western-based Muslim intellectuals and the specific issues and concerns facing Muslim minorities in Europe and the Americas.

Dr M. Yaqub Mirza, Chairman of Sterling Management and Sterling Chritable Gift Fund, spoke about building endowments. He highlighted the concept of cross-generational generosity. Sterling Fund and International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) have helped establish a number of Islamic Studies Chairs at various universities. Dr Mirza, along with Dr Agha Saeed and Dr Qayoumi, President, San Jose State University, is a core team member of the Islamic Chair project.

Former Senator Mike Gravel, honorary chairman of the Endowed Chair project and Prof. Christian Jochim, Chairman Humanities Department at the SJSU, also spoke on the occasion.

Sheikh Aladdin El-Bakri, a prominent Islamic scholar, skillfully performed the duty of fundraising for the project. Iman Zaid Shakir, another prominent Islamic scholar, appealed for generous donations for the project.

Preacher Moss, Award-winning Muslim comedian, entertained the audience with his thrilling performance.

Imam Mahdi Bray, AMA National Director, presented a vote of thanks.

American Muslim Alliance (AMA) took the opportunity to present the AMA Excellence Performance Award to Mohammed Osman Chowdhry, President of AMA Florida, which is recognized by Rep. Alcee Hastings for its excellent work in Florida.

The benefit dinner for the SJ University Chair of Islamic Studies was held at the ornate banquet hall of the Chandni Restaurant in Newark/Fremont. The dinner program began with a recitation from the Holy Qur'an by Mufti Mudassir of the Islamic Center of Fremont, CA.

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