SE Michigan News (V9-I13)

March 22, 2007 by  


iLearn banquet in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor–March 17, 2007–Alexander Kronemer, co-producer of Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet (s), keynoted the banquet celebrating the accomplishments of iLearn, a local public education company headed by Dr. Soraya Orady.

The banquet was a very well choreographed and successful affair that showcased the accomplishments of iLearn, “The Islamic Education and Resources Network,” one of the many Islamic organizations that sprouted in the difficult few years after 9/11 in order to counter the prevailing ignorance about Islam and prejudice against Muslims.

Dr. Soraya Orady is the president of iLearn, a company which she herself founded. iLearn provides sensitivity training to hospitals, schools, law enforcement agencies, churches, synagogues, and businesses. It also provides training to Muslims for the role of public speaking. The company’s website describes it as a “non-profit educational organization with centers in Michigan and northern Ohio, whose mission is to build bridges of understanding…”

About 250 people were present for the elegant banquet, which was held at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Ann Arbor. The theme of the evening was “Religious Diversity and Islam.”

Dr. Orady described the objectives and accomplishments of iLearn, using a Powerpoint presentation to highlight its accomplishments. iLearn was incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation in 2003. She showed that iLearn has conducted 97 presentations in 26 communities (centered mainly in the Ann Arbor area but reaching throughout Michigan and as far south as Ohio and as far west as California). iLearn has had 6,100 participants in its lectures, and has conducted 3 health care conferences, with 300 attendees who provide care to many people. A focus of iLearn has been to train health-care providers in cultural sensitivity to Islam. iLearn has also conducted a Muslim-Jewish relations symposium.

iLearn has trained 180 Muslims to speak about Islam, providing them with certification at the end of their study.

It has held three conferences on providing culturally appropriate care for Muslim patients (April 04, April 05, and May 06), which conferences have been certified to provide attendees with Continuing Medical Education credits.

iLearn’s success was attested to by several non-Muslim attendees at the banquet and by letters sent in by people who have experienced iLearn training who universally congratulated iLearn for its well-organized and engaging training sessions and especially for the warmth and graciousness of Dr. Orady.

They thanked her especially for welcoming them and respecting their own religious choice, while explaining our own.

Dr. Orady emphasized that iLearn is a labor of love and passion, and that it is in need of volunteers and support from the community. “We can’t do this without you,” she said.

Alexander Kronemer, in the words of his own website, is “a writer, lecturer and documentary producer focusing on religious diversity, Islam and cross-cultural understanding.” He has a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Harvard. In 1996, he was awarded a Joseph J. Malone Fellowship for Middle East and Islamic Studies, which funded him for a study tour of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. He has published numerous essays, but perhaps he is most notable for his PBS documentary, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet (s).

Kronemer is an engaging speaker who would have been better suited to a bigger audience, but who was very comfortable in his role as speaker and connected well with the few hundred gathered for the iLearn banquet.

As many of those present at the banquet were not Muslim, he tailored his speech to appeal to all. He explained that as a Muslim, he looks at Prophet (s) in one way, but that there is another positive way to look at him, which is through the light of his accomplishments and the tremendous courage of his life.

He explained the story of his own conversion to Islam and his first-hand knowledge of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism–he was raised practicing Judaism, then Christianity, and with his own free will embraced Islam at an early age.

A theme of his speech was that there are different forms of “interfaith” work, and diversity as well, but he emphasized that interfaith by itself is not positive, citing among other examples wars and the Inquisition–which by their nature are “interfaith,” but also viciously negative in their effects on the other religion.

He then explained the structure of a movie, whether a comedy or a tragedy, the storyline looking like either a smile or a a frown, respectively–the character’s life starts one way, either happy or sad, then something happens and he or she moves toward the other pole, then something turning point comes, related either to the theme of the movie or story or related to the intrinsic nature of the main character, this turning point leads in a direction, which reflects the morality of the turning point–good action leading to a good end or a bad action or tragic flaw leading to a tragic end.

He explained in detail that the turning point was based on, in his own words, Prophet’s (s) “willingness to lose” by walking toward Mecca in hajj clothing without weapons despite an ongoing war which had been happening between the Meccans and Medinans for years. The Meccans were at a loss for what to do and this stalemate, propelled by an action Prophet (s) made, resulted in an agreement and the eventual victory of Islam over the polytheists, although even his Companions could not see the victory as they were prevented from making hajj and walked back toward Mecca.

This willingness to lose, Kronemer argued, is the essential component of victory and success in religious conflict–he explained that the unwillingness to lose, or a mindset of “win at any cost” results in a thousand defeats in search of an elusive victory–and such is the case with the “war on terror,” which has resulted in many different losses–for instance, the embracing of torture and the repeal of civil liberties.

Ultimately, he said, the willingness to lose is the way to win. And he also emphasized the importance of explaining religious symbols to others, so that simple religious acts do not lead to harmful misunderstandings–he finished his speech by demonstrating the way to pray, showing by himself the physical movements and saying in English the word components of each part of the prayer for the benefit of the non-Muslims in the audience.

In fact, this was a generous gesture which is not ordinarily made by Muslims as they try to explain Islam to non-Muslims.

At the end, iLearn made materials about Islam, including the Qur`an, available to the audience. And Mr. Kronemer also gave out copies of his “Legacy of a Prophet” (s) DVD without charge to those present.

If you would like to contact iLearn in order to provide sensitivity training, to donate money to the organization, or to find out more, please visit iLearnmi.org or contact info@iLearnmi.org or 734-255-2612. 866-378-0371. PO Box 130122 Ann Arbor, MI 48113. Tax id no. 86-1062513.

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