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About 200 Attend Oakland University Conference, with Speakers from Around the World

March 19, 2009 by  


By Adil James, MMNS

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Rocheter–March 14–Oakland University’s nascent Islamic Studies Department had a coming out party of sorts this past weekend at Oakland University, hosting speakers from around the world.

About 200 attendees visited the 3-day conference, which was intended to foster communication across religious lines and also between the religious and academic worlds–and which to further these aims invited speakers from Africa, Asia, and across the Americas.

The conference featured numerous guests, many local but many from around the world, including Naomi Tutu, the niece of the famous South African anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Georgetown U. professor John Esposito, Eide Alawan, and Professor Mohammed Abu-Nimer of American University.  In addition several prominent imams from suburban Detroit were present–and imams Elahi, Mardini, and Qazwini (alphabetical order) spoke.  Imam Fulani, The Chief Judge of Shari’ah of the Kwara region of Nigeria was also present, among other influential people.

Imam Salie, the founder of Oakland University’s Islamic Studies curriculum, and perhaps the most important motivating force behind this first Religion Conflict and Peace conference, said of Esposito’s speech Friday morning that he had been “fantastic.” Salie said that Esposito had been extremely open and frank and informal, speaking about President Obama and generally about relations with the Muslim world.

Of organizing the conference Salie said that “there were headaches but you need pain to learn.”

The conference featured 19 panel sessions and main sessions, some of which ran concurrently.

Salie said, “One thing which I found particularly memorable was the statement of Joseph Montville, a Harvard grad who said ‘time is not the healer but healing is the healer,’” emphasizing the importance of the element of willful movement towards healing rather than just forgetting about past crimes and victims.

Naomi Tutu in an address to an audience of about 70 people on the Saturday evening session could be said to have represented the purpose of the conference, in that she represents an under-recognized entity in most discussions of religion. 

“As somebody from Africa, I feel left out when people discuss major religions–there is very little talk about African traditional religions,” she said.

She compared “our communications about God” to those of children; “my dad is bigger than your dad,” she described this as the theme among disputes over religion, and she emphasized that in conversations about religion, groups should not be ignored, or cast out simply by being unmentioned.

She made a very strong point about conversations about Islam in the current world, saying that “Islamic terrorism” plays the role that the label communism played in the past–namely that any nation that wishes to have its policies ignored so that it can repress people without questions being asked about its deeds can apply the convenient label “terrorist” to its victims and then proceed with its repression.

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