Amidst growing violence, tension and intolerance on an international level, the Muslim world must choose between reformation, restoration or reinterpretation, according to a lecture given yesterday by John Esposito, a professor of Religious and International Affairs at Georgetown University and the chair of Georgetown's Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. The talk was the inaugural lecture for the new Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies.
The program, the result of a post-Sept. 11 surge of student demand for courses about the Muslim world, seeks to expand Stanford's curriculum in Islamic Studies, though it will not grant degrees. It will also sponsor research, academic conferences and public lectures, like the one given by Esposito.
Esposito also spoke about a change in attitude toward Islam and the West?s growing fascination with the Muslim world.
"Thirty years ago when we talked about Islam, it was out there," he said. "There was the Western world and there was Islam. Look at the difference between then and now."
Esposito's lecture, entitled "The Future of Islam," was given in front of a full house in Tresidder Union's Oak Lounge.
He stated that there is a struggle within the Muslim world over whether Islam should change or remain the same, specifically whether it should go through processes such as reformation, restoration or reinterpretation. A reformation could be similar to the Protestant Reformation, as Esposito explained that there are always people "looking for the Martin Luther of Islam." A return to an Islam practiced in earlier periods would be a restoration of the religion, while a reinterpretation would require drawing new conclusions from the Koran.
Esposito described the struggle as mostly mainstream, involving liberals, conservatives and "every shade" in between. However, he said that the debate is hindered by radical extremists and authoritarian regimes.
According to Esposito, many Americans know of Islam only through reading explosive headlines about those extremists and authoritarian regimes, instead of interacting with Muslims as neighbors and coworkers. Addressing the violence in the Muslim world, Esposito pointed out that most Muslim countries are younger than he is, with many of them forming in the post World War II era.
Esposito said that in viewing Islam, often Americans compare their ideals to the realities of the Muslim world and draw conclusions from there.
"We have to broaden our notions of plurality and tolerance," Esposito said. "Tolerance must be based on mutual understanding and respect . . . Unless we do that, it makes for a bleak future."
Esposito said that Stanford's new Islamic Studies program "has a lot of potential" to spread that kind of tolerance.
"Stanford has an opportunity to stand out, not just on the West coast, but nationally. We don't have enough of these programs."
The Abbasi Program is made possible through the donations of Sohaib Abbasi, a former Oracle Corp. executive, and Lysbeth Warren, an alumna and member of the Humanities and Sciences Council at Stanford. Their respective gifts of $2.5 million and $2 million were matched by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for a total endowment of $9 million. The University is currently in the process of filling one endowed professorship and is looking towards creating more professorships within the program.