Welcoming Islam at Furman

The original ideas behind the symposium, meant to encourage inter-faith understanding, came from the Muslim Students Association. They went to the Office of the Chaplain and Political Science Department for help, and the idea of having a series of CLP events related to Islam began to emerge.

By Stephanie Bauer, News Editor

The purpose of the Cultural Life Program at Furman is to inspire students to see another perspective. Religion is one of those important perspectives. According to several of its founders, this was the idea beyond the World Religions Symposium.

“[The idea was] that as an institution, we could set a model of inter-faith reflection and understanding, as well as civil dialogue, and come together to talk about and understand other religions,” said Hammad Khan, president of the Muslim Students Association.

The original ideas behind the symposium, meant  to encourage inter-faith understanding, came from the Muslim Students Association. They went to the Office of the Chaplain and Political Science Department for help, and the idea of having a series of CLP events related to Islam began to emerge.

“[As we’re] continuing to see the university’s constituency grow more diverse… We wanted to create and facilitate spaces where people could engage the world’s religions with very strong scholarship,” said Maria Swearingen, Assistant University Chaplain.

Dr. Alfons Teipen of the Religion Department specializes in Islam, so the group went to him, as well as Furman chaplain’s, Dr. Vaughn CroweTipton, and Dr. Akan Malici of the Political Science Department. Student groups slowly began to join as well.

“Student groups realized being a part of this seemed important and we could put something really great together if we pooled our time and resources together,” said Swearingen.

Over a dozen different organizations and departments worked together on the symposium. Furman’s Muslim Student Association, the Office of the Chaplain, the A.J. Head Fund, Shi Center for Sustainability, Lilly Center for Vocational Reflection, Multicultural Affairs, Canterbury, Mere Christianity Forum, Presbyterian Student Association, Wesley Fellowship, College Democrats, College Republicans, and the Political Science, History, and Religion departments all took part.

“It was the interests of the Furman community that really pulled everything into place,” said Khan.

All the groups were able to work together because they each took control of events. College Democrats and Republicans jumped on board with one of the CLPs about democracy – “Islam, Sharia, and Democracy.” The Shi Center is working with the speaker on sustainability for “Islam and Environmentalism.”

“[You] can’t really ever pin religious identity in one category, so why not acknowledge that and engage that,” said Swearingen. “It can provide opportunity for really exciting interaction.”

The first lecture in a series of seven was held on Tues., Oct. 16 in Daniel Chapel. The speaker, Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub, gave a lecture  entitled, “A Muslim View of Christianity.”

His talk was essentially an overview of Muslim and Christian relations, particularly making observations on Muslim relations to other communities.

This was a perfect topic for Ayoub to speak on. He is a scholar who has studied comparative religion and inter-faith dialogue extensively.

Ayoub has written a collection of essays that became a book called A Muslim View of Christianity.

Teipen was the professor who helped organize the event. He has a close professional relationship with Ayoub. Teipen studied under Ayoub and also wrote his thesis with Ayoub’s guidance.

“One of the most attractive points is that he was one of the Ph.D. advisors for Dr. Teipen, plus his scholarship and knowledge,” said Khan.

The majority of our campus’ population is Christian. Thus, a good first lecture topic was Muslim perspective on Christianity.

Throughout his speech, students could submit questions anonymously as baskets were passed around. A few questions were selected to be discussed further by Ayoub. The students, to their credit, asked provocative and important questions.

“What better person to ask the questions than to a scholar who devoted his life to Islam?” said Swearingen. “What better place than a university to ask those questions?”

The room was filled with over 225 students, faculty, and community members.

“I was very pleased, positively surprised with attendance,” said Teipen. “Furman students don’t shy away from hard questions. That for me is the biggest benefit. They do me proud as critical thinkers and are able to ask hard questions in a responsible and respectful fashion.”

Khan was also very pleased with the event, and looks forward to the other six events in the series.

“The Furman community responded extremely well to the spirit of the symposium and I couldn’t have asked for more,” said Khan.

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