UR Professor of Religion and Chair of the Religion and Classics Department Emil Homerin presented his lecture on common misperceptions of Islam and solutions to this entitled “Translating Islam” at 5 p.m. on Wednesday as a part of the River Campus Libraries Neilly Series.
“Americans are threatened by images of Islam and associate it with violence and terrorism,” Homerin said. The solution to this, he continued, “is to translate cultures and religions not as a threat but instead to learn.”
“A poem becomes a window into the world of others,” Homerin said.Homerin is an author, translator and editor and an expert on Islamic poetry and mysticism. His publications include “From Arab Poet to Muslim Saint” and an anthology of translations “Ibn al-Faird: Sufi Versa and Saintly Life.”
“With such an eclectic background, how can he not be interesting?” Dean of River Campus Libraries Ronald Dow said in his introduction of Homerin.
A significant portion of the talk focused on the interpretation of the Quran and its rituals. Homerin also explained the principles of the five pillars of Islam. These include the shahada or declaration of faith, salat or the five daily prayers, zakat or the giving of alms, sawn or fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and the hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. He went on to indicate that a jihad, while a part of the Quran, is not one of the five pillars. The most correct translation of jihad is a struggle, a word that is commonly used as the reason for terrorism in the media. This meaning can include military action but only if Muslims have to use it as a defense. It most often refers to an inner struggle within a person.
Homerin explained the beginnings of the historical hostility between Christians and Muslims. He was quick to point out that Islam was not at war with Christianity, but in fact some Christians were at war with some Muslims. He explained that in the seventh century the Arab-Muslim army gained control over the area spanning from Spain to East India. In its control over the region, the Arabs were tolerant of non-Muslim faiths and this created an environment where an anti-Muslim sentiment developed among Christians.
Homerin said that Islamic mystics held high the beliefs of social equality and toleration. They encouraged an everlasting love for all people. However, Islamic scriptures and practice were not tolerated by the Christians as a result of their fear for survival in a flourishing Islamic society.
By the 18th century, the Islamic empires were replaced by colonialism and the Muslims came to be viewed as backwards and undomesticated by the western world.
“The fear of Islam was displaced by contempt,” Homerin said. Stories of polygamy and inhumane Muslim behavior became prevalent in the West.
“Radical Muslims and Arabs have hostility toward the west due to colonialism,” Homerin said.
He took the time to explain the connection between the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He said that the god in the Quran is the same as the god of Moses and Jesus. The Quran encourages peace — in fact it mentions the words compassion and mercy 172 times.
To understand an event like September 11, Homerin asked the audience to reflect on what would drive someone to violence in the first place. He said that the end of terror was not in intelligence, homeland security or invading Iraq. He gave facts about the poverty and severe lack of political freedom throughout the Middle East. “When people have nothing left to live for they have very little to lose,” Homerin said.
Near his conclusion, Homerin quoted a Muslim peace activist and said that for our collective survival, religion and nationalism are not the solutions — the solution is secular humanism, which involves being rational and logical.
“I think the lecture was great. His explanation had a historical and socio-economic context,” Hicam Safieddine, a graduate student in the economics department said. “I especially enjoyed the excerpts on Islamic mysticism. I wish there were younger students to listen to this because it impacts them more.”
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