Examining Social and Cultural Unrest

Mohammad Khalil lecturing

Many people assume Osama bin Laden killed Americans on Sept. 11 because most Americans are non-Muslim, but his primary motivation was actually a warped eye-for-an-eye worldview.

That’s according to Mohammad Khalil, director of Michigan State University’s Muslim Studies Program and associate professor of religious studies in the College of Arts & Letters, who taught a new class this semester, “Islam, Radicalism and Islamophobia.”

It’s easy to suffer from an overload of misinformation when reading about ISIS attacks and Donald Trump’s proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S., he said. After spending most of last summer researching bin Laden for an upcoming book, Khalil was inspired to clear up the confusion with his one-credit course, which was open to all undergraduates, regardless of major.

“I want to problematize the way we view the world,” Khalil said. “I want us to be a little bit frustrated because the issues aren’t so neat and the world is more complicated than the media suggest. As long as students are aware of some of the nuances that exist when talking about Islam and Muslims the course has succeeded.”

I want us to be a little bit frustrated because the issues aren’t so neat and the world is more complicated than the media suggest.

The curriculum aimed to provide students with knowledge of the religion of Islam and the core beliefs and practices that have defined Muslim communities. It also addressed contemporary Muslim radicalism and the responses of Muslim scholars and activists and contemporary Western anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim discourses and sentiments.

Other key points for his students:

• Reputable polls show the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide found the Sept. 11 attacks morally objectionable.
• Although numerous prominent Muslim clerics publicly and explicitly condemned 9/11 in 2001, there was a widespread assumption in the West that such clerics were generally silent. The perceived silence likely stems in part from the fact that there’s no central religious figure – such as a pope – in Sunni Islam.

“The unknown can cause fear and mistrust and the best way to tackle that lack of understanding is to pursue learning from experts in those unfamiliar areas,” said Alicia Peters, a junior majoring in Chinese and global studies in the arts and humanities. “Understanding the issues surrounding radical Muslim terrorists is not just important for this area of study, but also for realizing those on our side include more than 1 billion Muslims.”

The class filled quickly, without much advertising, Khalil said. He’s been especially proud of the diversity of his students, most of whom were non-Muslim and represent a variety of ethnicities, cultures and majors.

MSU’s College of Arts & Letters will continue to explore additional courses designed to foster important public discourse and address societal and cultural concerns.

For example, in March, the college introduced a one-credit class open to all majors, “After the Dream: Social Unrest, Hashtag Activism and Inequality in Contemporary America,” which was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

“By addressing issues that affect all members of the MSU community and by providing students the space and materials to examine important aspects of our contemporary world, we hope to promote engaged citizenship,” said Tacuma Peters, assistant professor of English, who’s teaching the class.

Article originally published on MSUToday. April 18, 2016 | Kristen Parker

Mohammad Khalil’s “Islam, Radicalism and Islamophobia” class has been featured in the Detroit Free Press and the Lansing State Journal.

Listen to Khalil’s radio interview on Capital City Recap with Michael Cohen on 1320AM.