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Dhimmitude v.s. Jihad: Vanderbilt U Divinity School hosts mosque da'wa course after Tennessee U revokes campus venue

Dean of Bible college asked TSU administration: "Would you let me lecture at TSU on Christianity?"
March 2, 2005

Dean of Bible college asked TSU administration: "Would you let me lecture at TSU on Christianity?"
March 2, 2005

Staff Writer

VU takes in class on Islam after Tennessee U cancels use of it's room

Change of sites follows letter of complaint from Bible college

One week before the scheduled start of a free course on Islam at Tennessee State University, members of the Islamic Center of Nashville have been told they won't be able to use a room at the campus, a mosque leader said yesterday.

TSU officials could not immediately explain why the invitation was reversed.

But the cancellation came one week after the dean of Tennessee Bible College in Cookeville sent a letter to TSU President James Hefner questioning the use of a government-funded university for a course on religion.

"Are you not using government money to promote religion — a single religion?" Dean Kerry Duke wrote in his Jan. 14 letter, which was also sent to The Tennessean. "Would you allow me to lecture at TSU on Christianity?"

Awadh Binhazim, outreach director for the Islamic center, said he was informed of the cancellation last week by the TSU faculty adviser to the Muslim Student Association, which was co-host for the program.

"He said they just needed the room, and he couldn't tell me more than that," Binhazim said.

The TSU adviser, Amiri Al-Hadid, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Islamic Center has held several similar courses at TSU in recent years. The classes, which will begin Sunday, will now be held at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, with that university's Muslim Student Association as co-host.

Student associations routinely use Vanderbilt facilities for educational programs, and there is nothing improper about allowing the course to be held on campus, Chaplain Gay Welch said. Animosity and misunderstandings between Christians and Muslims are rising, she said, making it more important than ever to foster interfaith discussions.

"What's at stake is not letting people exchange ideas," she said. "The more you learn about a faith, the less likely you are to make egregious stereotypes."

In an interview yesterday, Duke, the Bible college dean, said he believed that Islam promotes violence against non-Muslims. He scoffed at assertions that Islam is a peaceful religion and accused Muslims of watering down the true nature of their beliefs.

"I've been to the mosque several times and I'm well aware of the teachings of the Koran," Duke said. "I disagree with their claims that their religion does not promote violence, and I can show there are statements in the Koran that encourage violence to non-Muslims."

Welch cited passages in the Bible that she said promote violence and pointed to atrocities carried out in the name of Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades and, more recently, by the Ku Klux Klan.

"A lot of violence has been committed in the name of all religions, and there's no reason to lay it all at the feet of Islam," she said. "If you look deeply into the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad, you find that both promoted benevolence, peace and unity."

More than 40 people have signed up for the class so far, and the center is now planning to hold two separate sessions to accommodate everyone.

Binhazim said the course wasn't designed to convert non-Muslims but to help people gain a better understanding of Islam.

"I don't want to dwell on our differences," he said. "I want to look at what unites us and our common humanity."

Related story:

Islamic Center offers 2 sessions

Holly Edwards can be reached at 259-8035 or


MIM: The course

Tuesday, 01/25/05
Islamic Center offers 2 sessions

free course on Islam will begin at 9 a.m. Sunday and will be held every Sunday through May 8.

Because of the large number of people who have registered, two sessions will be held at times to be announced after the first class, said Awadh Binhazim, outreach director of the Islamic Center of Nashville, which is sponsoring the course.

The class will meet at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Room G23 on the first floor. Topics will include:

• Islamic religious beliefs and practices, including the Islamic concept of God and the Five Pillars of Islam — the acknowledgement of God, prayer, the paying of alms, fasting and a pilgrimage to Mecca.

• Islamic ethical, social and political life, including the rights of minorities and women.

• The emergence of Islam and the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

• Muslims in history, including the Golden Age of Islam and Islam's impact on the European Renaissance.

• Islamic holy books and the source of Islamic law.

• Distortions of Islam and the roots of Islamic fundamentalism.

Further information is available on the Islamic Center's Web site,

Holly Edwards


MIM: From Muslim Student Association to Muslim Student of Allah -recruiting converts to Islam on campus


The New Role of Muslim Chaplins

By Teresa Mιndez | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

HARTFORD, CONN. - When Trinity College students return to their snow-bitten campus next week, for the first time they will discover a Muslim chaplain working there.

Sohaib Nazeer Sultan is one of only a handful of Muslim chaplains at colleges and universities across the country.

But as the number of Muslim college students continues to grow - along with the desire to understand religious and cultural complexities at play in a post-9/11 world - more schools are hiring Muslim chaplains.

Mr. Sultan is a slight man with a soothing demeanor. In khaki pants, a navy tunic, and square, dark-rimmed glasses he could easily pass for a young graduate student.

In many ways, he seems older and wiser than his 24 years. He has already written a book - "The Koran for Dummies" - published last year. He speaks of the need to create a culture not just of tolerance, but of acceptance. He sees his job as a Muslim chaplain as a divine calling.

Yet he's also down-to-earth, self-deprecating, and compassionate when he discusses the many obstacles - both spiritual and secular - that young Muslims on their own for the first time are likely to encounter.

In 1999 Georgetown University hired Yahya Hendi - the first full-time Muslim chaplain at an American university. Today, the Muslim Students Association (MSA) estimates that 14 institutions of higher education provide for a Muslim chaplain.

As here at Trinity, however, many of these positions are part-time jobs.

In the past - and still at many schools today - a volunteer from the community would fill the role of spiritual adviser and advocate for Muslim students. Frequently, a student leads fellow students in prayer.

Before Sept. 11, many of these leaders were international students with strong backgrounds in Islam, well-versed in both Arabic and the Koran, says Ingrid Mattson, director of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program at Hartford Seminary. But recent visa restrictions have reduced their numbers, heightening the need to train chaplains in the United States.

As the number of Muslim students on college campuses has increased, so have MSA chapters. There are currently close to 600 in the US and Canada, up from around 400 10 years ago.

Sultan got his chaplaincy start through the MSA. During his four years at Indiana University in Bloomington, he was the public relations officer for the organization, as vice president, president, and student adviser.

After he began to give weekly sermons, Sultan realized that though still a student himself, his peers had "started seeing someone who had answers to certain things" - a totally false perception, he says, laughing.

He received phone calls and e-mails from students seeking guidance. There were the questions that any student might face - who am I and what am I doing? But there were also moral dilemmas specific to a Muslim - how to navigate a setting saturated with alcohol, strictly forbidden to Muslims. And then there were students experiencing profound culture shock - those wondering, as Sultan says, "Holy Morocco, where am I?"

He remembers one student in particular, a young woman who had lived in Afghanistan during the Russian occupation and seen all six of her siblings killed by soldiers. Back home, her family had rallied around her in support, but on her own in a foreign country, many of those feelings came flooding back.

Settling into a leather chair in the verger's room at Trinity College's chapel, Sultan confesses that he was in no way prepared to advise anyone back then.

He consulted his father - a teacher of Islamic education - local Imams, and books on psychology and counseling. What he discovered, he says, was that he'd been doing everything wrong. He had been doling out advice, when "really it's about listening so that people can come to solutions that are usually already present in their own hearts," he says.

As a college senior with a degree in political science and journalism, but no clear career plan, he came across the Islamic Chaplaincy Program at Hartford Seminary. He realized "it was exactly what I was doing, and I was unaware that I was doing it."

Last year - after a brief stint as a journalist and the year it took to complete his book - Sultan enrolled at Hartford Seminary, where he is working toward a master's degree in Islamic chaplaincy, Islamic studies, and Christian-Muslim relations.

Hartford's is the country's only accredited Islamic Chaplaincy Program. Enrollment has grown from two students in 2000, when it was established, to 12 this year, half of whom are women.

Founded in 1893, the Seminary's Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations is the oldest of its kind, and most Muslim chaplains working today are in some way affiliated with it.

Still, Hartford isn't known for its Muslim presence in the way that Chicago and some other urban centers are. There are three mosques in the city. And of 2,000 students, Trinity has identified about 20 who are Muslim.

Sultan imagines there are more, and he sees himself as a counselor, teacher, and advocate for these students. But equally important, he says that he hopes to be a resource on Islam for the entire community - both Muslims and non-Muslims. He is plunging right in, planning with the start of the semester to begin a weekly lesson on the Koran - open to all who are interested.

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