I’m currently finishing up a MA in religious studies. To many, this field seems like a strange one to study. I constantly hear that the influence of religion is waning. I, however, do not feel that is true. Religion continues to impact people all over the world in the decisions they make, their politics, and the way lives are lived in general. I find it fascinating how one’s religious beliefs alter their worldview.
Although I have always been interested in religion, I saw it more as a hobby than anything. This changed for a variety of reasons, including meeting Muslim students in Boulder, CO. I had never put much time into learning about Islam, but I knew that my view of ambivalence towards Islam was not one that was shared by many Americans. Islamaphobia is real in the US, yet these students were still here, studying and practicing their religion. I was intrigued. I started reading more about Islam. Then I read a book by Steven Prothero of Boston University, God is Not One, which discussed how little Americans know about religious beliefs other than Christianity. I was hooked. I wanted to make a difference and help more Americans understand religion and Islam in particular.
I began my religious studies program with these lofty, idealistic desires. I’ve learned a lot about the major world religions, but none of them spoke to me like Islam. Islam and Muslims are foreign to most Americans with our decidedly Christian upbringing. But different does not mean wrong. There is so much more to Islam than terrorism and jihad, which are the two words I believe the majority of Americans associate with the tradition. Sure there are Muslims who do terrible things and justify their actions as the desires of Allah. But those Muslims do not represent the majority of the billions of Muslims who live peacefully on our planet. I recently visited a local Islamic Center for Friday afternoon prayer with a wonderful woman who converted to Islam from Catholicism and her husband. The first thing her husband told me, not knowing my history as a religious studies student, was that they were not hiding bombs in the basement. How sad, I thought, that this friendly, sweet, AMERICAN man felt the need to preface my visit with a statement like that one.
So I jumped into Islamic studies. I was shocked by the amount of Islamic impact that was left out of my history lessons. Muslims created algebra, for example, and preformed the very first cataracts surgeries. The Middle Eastern enlightenment rivaled that of Europe. The culture was even richer than I could have imagined it to be. Yet my history books largely ignored Islam and the Middle East. Nothing, however, challenged my concept of the world as learning about Palestine. I was appalled and embarrassed by how little I knew about Palestine and its inhabitants. Seriously embarrassed. I was shocked by what these people have gone through, how my fellow Americans had contributed to their suffering, and how the real story has largely been left untold. So this became my thesis project. To learn about Palestine in hopes of starting a conversation, finding a way to get this knowledge out there, and above all else, contributing to change.
A major part of my decision to begin writing this blog is as a first step in this plan. As I research Palestine for my thesis I’m going to use this platform as a way to express what I’m learning, how I feel about what I’m leaning, and also to attempt to find a way to deliver this message on a larger scale. Others have attempted this, and yet everyone I’ve questioned only equates Palestine with terrorism. What a disservice our history books and media have done to these people. Their side of the story deserves to be told.