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Thursday, October 12, 2006

So, what do I know about Islam anyway?

In Der Spiegel's interview with Karim Aga Khan IV, spiritual leader of 20 milliion Ismaili Muslims,

http://www.spiegel.de:80/international/spiegel/0,1518,442180,00.html

he makes the point that western education doesn't provide much knowledge about Islam:

"Aga Khan: I prefer to talk about a clash of ignorance. There is so much horrible, damaging, dangerous ignorance.

SPIEGEL: Which side is responsible?

Aga Khan: Both. But essentially the Western world. You would think that an educated person in the 21st century should know something about Islam; but you look at education in the Western world and you see that Islamic civilizations have been absent. What is taught about Islam? As far as I know -- nothing. What was known about Shiism before the Iranian revolution? What was known about the radical Sunni Wahhabism before the rise of the Taliban? We need a big educational effort to overcome this. Rather than shouting at each other, we should be learning to listen to each other."

One could certainly take issue with the question of "who's more ignorant", and I may do so later, but he does have a point about the failure of western educational systems to provide information about other cultures in a modern way.

To the extent that I learned anything about Islam in my schooling, I learned about the crusades, the wars setting up the Moorish and Turish empires, the holy Ferdinand and Isabella driving the Moors out of Spain, the involvement of Muslims in the slave trade -- nothing recent, and you'll notice these were generally negative things.