New class offers insight into Islam

Beginning next semester, a new course, introduction to Islam, will be offered at Northern Kentucky University on a trial basis, according to Dr. Terry Pence, professor and philosophy program coordinator.

“This is the first time we’ve done introduction to Islam,” Pence said. “It was a course we were talking about doing prior to Sept. 11, and it is something that is probably even more important now.”

Pence also said that prior to Sept. 11 there has never been much student interest in studying Islam. He said this course will be tried out, and with enough student support, it will be we moved into the regular catalog curriculum.

“If it doesn’t go now, it’s just never going to go,” he said. “But, it should, because it’s such an important religion. It’s one of the fastest growing religions. And its even fast-growing here, in the United States.”

The course will satisfy a general studies requirement, like the courses survey of Christianity and introduction to Judaism, Pence said. “It’s the third of those great monotheistic religions,” he said. “It’s the second largest world religion. There can be no argument now that it’s a world player.”

Teaching introduction to Islam will be Dr. William Gartig, an adjunct professor at NKU who is also an ordained minister in the Episcopal church. He earned his Ph.D. in religion from Hebrew Union College studying the Jewish interpretation of the old testaments of the Bible, he said.

Gartig, who taught himself about Islam through reading and self study, has taught the course at the University of Cincinnati evening college and Xavier University. He said it will cover a historical overview of Islam, basic beliefs and practices, the Prophet Mohammed, Islamic mysticism, modern movements and Western domination of the Islamic world.

He said the class will help students to understand Islam and how Muslims think and feel, what they believe, and how they see the West along with exploring the diversity of Islam.

“There have been misunderstandings and very low opinions of the other side,” Gartig said. “Muslims historically have had very low opinions of Christians. And Christians have been taught to have very low opinions of the Prophet Mohammed and of Muslims. We have had 1400 years of a sad history of conflict.”

Gartig also said that in the past, Americans have felt Muslim hatred towards them could not hurt them. But, since 9-11, American sentiment has changed, he said.

“Now, we realize that sometimes when people hate you, they will act on it successfully and hurt you,” Gartig said. “There is reason for the West to understand why some Muslims hate the West so much.”

He said as long as Christians don’t understand Muslims, Christians will continue to insult them, and continue to make them angry. He said in order for people to get along, there must be understanding and dialogue, and his course can help by opening up discussion.

Although the course is not intended for Muslims, they also can benefit from it through learning information they may not have already known, Gartig said. They may learn more about the history and other types of Islam they don’t belong to.

But more importantly, dialogue can be practiced in the classroom between Muslim and non Muslim students, Gartig said.

Mutaz Awad, junior information systems major, plans on taking the course. He is a Muslim who moved to the United States from the United Arab Emirates to attend college. His mother is Egyptian and his father is Palestinian. Awad said he’s not sure what to expect from the course, but he would like to help. “I want to make sure it’s taught right,” Awad said. “If they need more information about Islam, the students or the professor himself, I will try to help.”

Gartig said people helping others understand their religion will end the misunderstandings which lead to conflict.