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Taking a closer look at Islamic Studies
by Barbara Kay
As an academic discipline, Islamic Studies had a political father and a spiritual mother. Political in that colonizing governments sought to understand the peoples they ruled over for more effective control. Spiritual in that Christian missionaries needed to understand Islam in forging conversion strategies.
Emergent identity pride appeared in the Muslim world in the wake of World War II and imperial withdrawal. Post-colonial intellectuals concluded that Muslims were victims of European ignorance, a notion most artfully elaborated in Palestinian-American literature professor Edward Said's 1978 book Orientalism. Guilt-ridden western academics eagerly embraced the new rules, which said that criticism of Western religions was to be encouraged, while Islam was (until 9/11) seen as largely off limits.
Muslim groups — some with an Islamist agenda that envisioned the introduction of shariah into Western cultures — started funding marriages between Islamic Studies programs and prestigious universities. In some cases, university administrators turned a blind eye to the content of these programs.
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