By Adil James, TMO
Farmington–August 10–Imam Achmat Salie, who championed an effort to establish an Islamic studies school at Oakland University, is now in the planning process of establishing a similar program at the University of Detroit–Mercy, a Catholic private university in Detroit.
Imam Salie is trying to establish a Chair at UD Mercy for Islamic Studies, and he explains the purpose of creating a chair is â€œto create a permanent place–if not, every year you have to beg for money, and spend so much time. Once there is a chair, the money is there for life. In 10 or 20 years, if I am gone, someone else fills that place.â€
He says the chair of Islamic studies would help the Muslim community by fueling mutual understanding across religious lines and even within the Muslim community by providing bridges across the gaps of Shiâ€™a-Sunni and other doctrinal disagreements. â€œThis will be a cosmopolitan approach to Islam, not an orientalist approach–an insider view, different from the skeptical and suspicious outsider view. But this will still be objective, there will be analysis, it wonâ€™t be superficial. Muslims speaking for themselves. Founded by Muslims, with an Islamic ethos, with an accurate portrayal of Islam.â€
The Oakland University program eventually failed under fiscal pressures. And the learning process that Mr. Salie went through from Oakland University definitely shows in his approach to UD Mercy. First, he chose UD Mercy in part because it is private rather than public.
â€œWith the recession, a lot of uncertainty in universities, public universities… [T]his is a private university, and there is more stability,â€ explains Salie.
He has also addressed the fundamental gap in funding that sidelined the Oakland University program. Imam Salie has now secured â€œmatching fundingâ€ from the IIIT, a well-funded Muslim not-for-profit based in Washington DC.
There are many Muslim graduates, Salie says, of UD Mercyâ€™s various schools, practising dentists and lawyers, and he asks that they choose now to give back.
â€œEducation, like journalism, provides a safe environment, a great way to promote understanding. Previous communities went through education to create understanding. Catholic and Jewish communities promoted understanding of themselves by being present at educational institutions.â€
The utility of the program, Salie argues, would be that it would provide exposure of Catholics to Islam, to alleviate the sometimes tense relations between the communities. The program would also provide means for Muslims to speak across sectarian boundaries to one another.
Salie looks forward to this program because he has found â€œbroad appealâ€ and acceptance at a very high level from the school and from the infrastructure of the Catholic church in Detroit, namely Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron.
Even more importantly within the Catholic church, the pope has also expressed support for maintaining good relations with Muslims.
â€œThe pope has wonderful relations with Turkey. There are delegations from the Vatican to Turkey. But at the lowest level, this type of enlightenment doesnâ€™t necessarily filter down.â€
Imam Salie points to distrust and animosity directed against Muslims from rank-and-file Catholics, including prominent Catholics like Fox Newsâ€™ Bill Oâ€™Reilly.
â€œOne out of four Christians is Catholic,â€ Salie explains. â€œWe should not take the Catholic position for granted–they are not all at the same level as the good people at the top.â€ Therefore he says it is important to reach out to the Catholic community.
Also, Salieâ€™s experience with Islamic Studies at Oakland University taught him that sometimes the most attentive students are not those you might expect.
Sometimes practicing Muslims attend, merely hoping for â€œan easy A, but the quality of their work is very bad.â€ Salie cites one atheist student who devoured the material in the Islamic Studies course and then wanted to teach other atheists about Islam. â€œMuslims are fooling themselves if they are expecting an easy A.â€
Salieâ€™s Islamic Studies classes are a way to reach Muslims who no longer practice. â€œI have had students from everywhere, Bosnians, Albanians, Pakistanis… totally disconnected from the religion.â€ The Islamic Studies courses are sometimes for these young people a safe way of reacquainting themselves with Islam.
Muslims wanting to participate are welcomed by Salie. â€œOne way is through donations…. Some people offer money, some offer expertise.â€ Salie invites the various communities of Muslims to participate by offering their knowledge of their own practice of Islam, or of their own national community. Salie emphasizes that specific communities of Muslims will be spoken for by that community, rather than having an intolerant view of any branch of Muslims imposed by an outsider to that community.
Salie is trying to establish an endowment at the university. â€œFor the first year, we need at least $200,000 to get started. That will be used up the first year. If we get an endowment, it takes one year to mature, and then with that endowment money in, we donâ€™t need much in donations.â€
Imam Salie aims to collect $2,000,000 in donations, which will be matched by IIIT, amounting to $4,000,000 which will be an adequate endowment to build a self-sustaining Islamic Studies program at UD Mercy.
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