Course: Introduction to Islam (2023)
Faculty Mentor: Susan Maneck
I now understand that there are five major periods in the development of Islam, from the time of Muhammad through the Umayyad, Abbasid, and Ottoman periods, into today’s international arena. Islam also spread much farther in the world than I had realized, especially during the Ottoman period, and reached across three continents (Europe, Africa, Eurasia), even into southeast Asia and the Philippines. I now know that the Ottomans developed a navy that rivaled any in Europe. I learned about the two main branches of Islam – Sunni and Shia – and why they split, as well as the mystical adaptations that the Sufi tradition brought to them, especially to Shia. It was fascinating to realize the importance of poetry, especially the poetry of the Sufis, which had a large effect on Bahá’u’lláh’s style. The history of Islam is much clearer to me now, and I feel like I can talk somewhat intelligently about it with Muslims.
I have fallen in love with the Ottoman empire and its focus on reasonability and science, and I seriously respect its longevity! I cannot condone the empire’s conquering and slave-gathering activities, but that was the way back then. Also, the empire allowed the subjugated people some autonomy and religious freedom as long as they remained loyal to the Sultan. I do not feel that Sharia is a terrible thing anymore; I understand that the term refers to accepted views within the Muslim community. I know that the Sufi tradition is about more than whirling dervishes.
I have reached out to Muslims in the past to befriend them, even attending Friday service at the local mosque. I feel like I made some gaffes then, which I hope I will now know enough to not repeat. I plan to resume reaching out and making friends with them, both to make them feel welcome and also to build bridges of understanding between Muslims and the Bahá’í Faith. I hope to now be able to better explain Islam to Christians and build bridges between Christians and Muslims.
I have a long-term goal to host a fireside giving a brief summary of Islam and perhaps bringing in progressive revelation and the similarities among the three religions. But this will have to wait until after I have taken the Qur’án class. I am also finishing my preparations for the climate change booth I am creating for a huge local fair as a project for the Wilmette Institute climate change class I completed this spring.
I have realized that not only did I have little knowledge about the history of Islam and the present-day difficulties its followers face, but I also had many misconceptions that I need to eradicate. To do this, I have set myself the goal of reading every supplemental article listed in the course readings for each unit. I have also subscribed to various blogs and journals where I can find more information. Of course, this will take time as there is so much to learn. But … I have the rest of my life to learn it!