In a free-flowing discussion, Columbia history professor Richard Bulliet and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf of the Zaytuna Institute—which aims to develop future Muslim scholars—emphasized the urgent need to view history in a new and critical light.
After a huge number of people piled into Altschul Auditorium in the International Affairs Building last night, Bulliet said to the audience, "I feel like I'm opening for the Rolling Stones." Bulliet and Yusuf had an open conversation with the moderator, Emmy award winning journalist Anisa Mehdi, regarding the growing rift between Islam and Christianity—religions perceived to be very different, but surprisingly similar in doctrine as well as scriptural history, according to Yusuf and Bulliet.
Calling widely accepted historical sources "modern narratives" that Bulliet said are often untrue, he explained that "you can't misread history until it is miswritten," and supported this claim with examples from European history, as well as the history of his hometown in Illinois. He questioned the need to draw "a horizontal line across the Mediterranean" dividing Islam and Christianity when two other conflicting cultures could come together to form "Greco-Roman antiquity." Yusuf agreed with the sentiment, pointing out that Christians did not originally consider Islam to be a separate religion—it was merely thought of as a heretical form of Christianity.
Of his latest book, The Case For Islamo-Christian Civilization, Bulliet said jokingly, "I had this idea that I would throw out this word, ‘Islamo-Christian Civilization,' and Google it every few weeks and watch as it takes over the world." While acknowledging that this was a far-fetched possibility, Bulliet said he hoped that it would at least provoke people to interpret history differently.
Yusuf, on the other hand, felt that in a world that is constantly changing, the likelihood of an integrated Islamo-Christian civilization is not as improbable as people might think.
But to achieve such a civilization, "we have to be able to get in the skin of the other," Yusuf said. Until then, he said, we will continue to live in a world of "black versus white, us versus them, police versus civilian."