CHAPEL HILL -- American universities have benefited for years from the largess of Middle Eastern Arabs who have contributed money for the establishment of mosques and centers for Islamic thought on campuses.
But that money, typically from Saudi Arabia, came draped in the values of a deeply conservative and patriarchal strand of Islam known sometimes as Wahhabism.
On Thursday, UNC-Chapel Hill accepted a different kind of financial offer for an endowed chair in Islamic studies.
The money will be raised by the Turkish Women's Cultural Association, an Istanbul-based nonprofit that promotes the mystical strand of Islam known as Sufism and is devoted to social service and education.
The association will work to raise nearly $700,000 for the Kenan Rifai Distinguished Professorship of Islamic Studies, named after a Turkish Sufi master who died in 1950. The university will then apply to the state for a matching grant through the N.C. Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund.
The arrangement, said UNC Provost Bernadette Gray-Little, represents a "striking demonstration of shared ideals among people of widely different backgrounds."
Representatives from the women's cultural association -- who, though Muslim, do not veil -- attended a public announcement Thursday. For leader Cemalnur Sargut, it was her 10th visit to UNC. She first came for a festival eight years ago, and developed good relations with UNC's religious studies department and with Islamic Studies professor Carl Ernst.
"They brought this proposal to us last fall, and we presented it to the dean," said Ernst. He hopes the new chair will become a reality within a year or two.