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Religious Studies sponsors Islam lectures

The department hopes to hire a speaker as an assistant professor.

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Visiting professor Azfar Moin answers questions during his lecture, Painted Miracles: Sacred Art And the Islamic Millennium, on Monday in Middlebush Hall. During his lecture, Moin discussed how art was used to depict sacred Muslim kings in the 16th century.

Nick Schnelle/Senior Staff Photographer

Dec. 8, 2009

Three assistant professor candidates offered their thoughts on the role of Islam in different cultures Wednesday, Friday and Monday.

The lectures were part of a series sponsored by the department of religious studies, which plans to hire a specialist to teach Islam.

The three speakers, assistant professor Rachel Scott from Virginia Tech, PhD candidate Timur Yuskaev from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and PhD candidate Azfar Moin from the University of Michigan, spoke about Islamic legal scholarship in Egypt, the spoken Quran in America and Islamic art in the Mughal Empire, respectively.

Robert Baum, religious studies associate professor and chairman, said he teaches Islam as a secondary field, but the department of religious studies plans to hire a full-time professor whose primary field is Islam. Of the candidates who applied for the position, the department of religious studies is most interested in hiring one the three speakers, Baum said.

"We're looking for distinguished scholars, excellent teachers and people interested in community and university service," Baum said.

The selected assistant professor will begin teaching at the beginning of the 2010-2011 academic year, Baum said.

In his Friday lecture, "A Spoken Qur'an: American Voices," Yuskaev analyzed how two influential American Muslim preachers brought the Quran to life in their speeches.

Yuskaev played a clip of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed belting out an impassioned commentary about the Quranic character Yusuf being thrown into the "bottomless pit" and sold into slavery by his brothers. The clip, like many of Mohammed's speeches, reveals a redemption theme in the Quran, which resonated with Mohammed's African-American audience, Yuskaev said.

"To his audiences, he tells them their history has a God-ordained meaning," Yuskaev said. "Their collective historical suffering has a parallel in the Quran. Like Yusuf, they were once cast off, considered to be worthless. Just as God worked in Yusuf, God has also been working in his people in the United States."

The preachers Imam Warith Deen Mohammed and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf have localized the teachings of the Quran to their modern-day audiences, Yuskaev said. He said Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, who emerged as a prominent Muslim preacher after Sept. 11, encouraged American Muslims to be active in public life.

Yuskaev said speaking the Quran means orally explaining the text and relating it to modern-day life.

"There's a problem when we approach a religious text, such as the Quran," Yuskaev said. "The text is there, we can look at it, we can read it. But how does it enter the daily lives of human beings?"

In his Monday lecture, "Painted Miracles: Sacred Art and the Islamic Millennium," Moin spoke about the how the Muslim king Jahangir expressed his sacred sovereignty through paintings he commissioned during the early 17th century. Moin said the paintings of this time period formed a new visual culture by introducing a mystical quality in Islamic art.

Moin said Jahangir of the Mughal Empire believed the paintings reflected the future. For example, Jahangir once asked his painter to reproduce one of his dreams, believing it to be a prophetic vision, Moin said.

"The dream was a medium of miracles as prophecy," Moin said. "Receiving a clear message was a sign of one's prophetic power and a major source of inspiration and action, especially if one is a saint or a king."

Scott's Wednesday lecture was titled "Islamism, Secularism, and the Role of the Ulama in Egypt." All three lectures were part of the Monroe and Sofie Paine Lecture Series.

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