Islamic Society To Unveil ‘Islam 101’ Seminars

In the wake of the conservative weekly Harvard Salient’s publication of cartoons parodying the Muslim prophet Muhammad, the Harvard Islamic Society (HIS) tomorrow will begin hosting a series of seminars entitled “Islam 101,” geared toward non-Muslims seeking to learn more about the religion.

A similar seminar, held during Islam Awareness Week from Feb. 22 to March 3, drew about 60 students and was met with much enthusiasm, said Martin T. Nguyen, a third year PhD candidate in Middle Eastern studies and history who will be leading the biweekly seminars.

The program was inspired by a series of “Judaism 101” seminars offered by Harvard Hillel last year, Nguyen said. HIS has been considering the idea of an introductory seminar for about a year, according to a member of the society, Nura A. Hossainzadeh ’06, who helped initiate the program. But HIS did not have the resources to support the program in the past, according to Hossainzadeh, who is also a Crimson editorial editor.

The seminars, she said, will finally become a reality this year because of heightened interest in Islam in the media and on campus.

“I would say that the Salient’s publication of the cartoons and the equally offensive editorial that ran next to the cartoons were the immediate cause,” Hossainzadeh said.

But, she added, “It isn’t just the Salient. A lot of people just aren’t very knowledgeable about Islam. We want to provide reliable information. We want to make sure that there is discussion.”

Nguyen said that although initial interest may have been caused by recent events, he hopes that the seminars will not be centered around current affairs.

“It’s about trying to understand the religion as a whole,” he said.

Elizabeth Dann, a member of HIS unaffiliated with Harvard who will be assisting Nguyen in the teaching of Islam 101, said that the first few seminars will focus on such basic issues as the Koran, the life of Muhammad and his family, and the role of women in Islam.

She said the seminars will also address contemporary issues such as the Muslim stance on stem cell research.

Nguyen estimated that at least 30 people would attend the seminar. According to HIS Treasurer Saheer A. Rizvi ’08, although the class will be similar to a course, it will be less stressful.

“There are no discussion sections, no tests; no time commitment apart from attending the one-hour session; it’s designed to be a relaxed way for students to learn more about Islam,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Nguyen said that the seminars were not meant to replace a course, although he added that, coincidentally, there are few college courses being taught about Islam this semester.

Harvard is offering one seminar for undergraduates this semester on the representations of Muhammad through history in the Study of Religion program—though a previous course on Islam is a prerequisite. It is also offering one undergraduate course on “Contemporary Political Islam” in the Government Department and two History of Art and Architecture courses that consider Islamic drawing and imagery.