Matar Clears Up Misconceptions About Muslim Beliefs

On Oct 12, Nabil Matar was the first to lecture for this year’s literary symposium series. His most recent subject of research, the topic of discussion was the established connection between England and Islam in 1558-1737.

Although this specific period of time is still being scrutinized, this is not Matar’s only research project in process, nor is it his only published information on English and Muslim relations. Receiving his B.A. and M.A. from the American University of Beirut, as well as his Ph.D from Cambridge University, Matar has published over 22 articles in the Florida area.

Matar is best known for challenging the belief that Islam exists outside of Jewish and Christian doctrines. His studies, as well as his scholarships, give Muslims the ability to disassociate the history of their peoples to that of the “inglorious colonialist era.” As Matar demonstrated last Thursday, this offers insight in Islam phobia, the psychological roots that prompted such ignorance of Muslim beliefs and how such factors contribute to the misconceptions portrayed in today’s mass media.

Besides the ability to bring new understanding of such studies of the Muslim world, Matar holds a deep understanding through personal experience. Matar was held captive for six months by mercenary kidnappers during the mid-1980s in Beirut, leaving his wife to fight for his freedom.

During his lecture, Matar also pointed out that the period in discussion is still in flux, and the Britain and the Muslim world were neither responsible for the oppression of either, and thus were able to establish connections. Such connections would have led to the impact of the Islamic world on Britain during the 17th century in three ways: theologically, musically and politically. Matar also mentioned the cultural exchange on the intellectual level on certain texts and individuals.

According to Matar, it was during this time that Britain’s focus was on the development of the British colonies and not the trade occurring in the Mediterranean. “Before there was a Jamestown, there was the Mediterranean. And before there were immigrants to North America, there were immigrants to North Africa,” he said. Because it was believed that “Muslims, Hindus and the peoples of the far East were outside the cultured world to which we [British] belong,” we today know little of the double genealogy that marked the early modern culture and proximity of Britain, Christianity and Islam. It was only a matter of time, however, until scholars began to study the diplomatic links between Britain and the Muslim world. and closely analyze the ramifications, as well as benefits, such links would have on the literary, cultural and historical aspects of each civilization.

As Matar explained, “It was time to rethink and reformulate historical experiences which had once been based on geographic separation of peoples and cultures.” During this reevaluation of the current history, the Muslim world became the first nonchristian civilization to impact the cultural and demographic dynamics of early modern Britain. The impact each culture had on one another was clear, and the connections between Britain and the Mediterranean soured as North America became more powerful. Matar gave proof of the consequences of such a dangerous shift while answering the question, “Why do we so misunderstand the Muslim world?”

“There is a desire to create a clash of civilization because I can’t find any justifications for happens in the West.” Matar continues, “In the West we cannot look at the Muslim world except through a religious perspective, not through a social or political perspective.” Can we be blame as North Americans for only approaching the Muslim world except religiously due to terrorism and terrorists? Can we be blamed for wanting to put an end to political figures, such as Bin Laden and his attempt to interpret the Koran in a violent context?

Yes, we are to blame, for it goes beyond a cultural issue and becomes a large religious misinterpretation. The only place the Muslim community has a voice is against its political oppression the Mosque; due to different education levels, the only language spoken there is Arabic. Therefore we are unable to see any political, social and economic dissent except through what is heard at the mosque. Matar compares it to the African American movement and the leaders people are most familiar with, such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., both of whom had religious backgrounds they used to communicate with the masses as well as to protect themselves from being jailed. “Where do you go if you don’t have a platform,” Matar asked, “You go back to religion.” Because we only see images of Muslim extremists, we are unable to comprehend that we are similar in culture.

There is only one difference in American and Muslim studies. In the Muslim world, students are forced to learn world studies such as theology, and that what happens in the United States greatly affects someone in the Muslim world, but not vice versa. Therefore, we, as American students, show few efforts in trying to learn and understand such cultures. “There are very few people studying religion,” Matar says, and as I turn my tape recorder off and look around at the small group who has stayed, a group of eight, I only see two other UT students. Is Matar right? Sadly, I believe so.

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