Muslims in the United States Influence and Innovation

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Jay Willoughby



This event, co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for
Scholars and the International Institute of Islamic Thought on May 11, 2005,
was convened to determine which American Muslim scholars are influential
in the Muslim world.
The first panel, “Assessing the Current Influence of American Islamic
Thinkers on Islamic Thinkers in Asia and the Arab World,” featured Osman
Bakar (Georgetown University), Tamara Sonn (College of William and
Mary), and Joseph Lumbard (Special Advisor to his Majesty the King for
Interfaith Affairs, Jordan). Bakr, in his “Competing Visions of Islam in
Southeast Asia: American Muslim Scholarship as a Major Shaping Factor,”
dealt with Indonesia and Malaysia and said that the main question was how
much of the contemporary world should be incorporated into the Islamic system,
and how much tradition should be preserved. He also elaborated upon
the phases of western and Middle Eastern Muslim scholars in Indonesia.
In her “The Declining Influence of American Muslim Scholars in
Pakistan,” Sonn stated that whereas Isma`il al-Faruqi, Seyyed Hossein Nasr,
and Fazlur Rahman had been popular in Pakistan during the 1980s, by 2003
this was no longer the case due to the current realities. She discussed the
importance of cassette recordings, which focus on “us vs. them,” the suffering
poor vs. the wasteful elite, human rights, and believers vs. non-believing
conspirators (e.g., Jews, Hindus, Ahmadis, Washington, and [maybe soon]
the Isma`ilis), among the largely illiterate masses. What needs to be done is
to spread literacy so that more Pakistanis can read their own scholars, such
as Iqbal. In addition, popular discourse needs to be taken seriously.
As Lumbard could not attend, panel moderator Philippa Sturm
(Woodrow Wilson Center) read the abstract of his “The Influence of
American Muslim Intellectuals in Muslim Intellectuals in the Arab World.”
In it, he mentioned that fewer books each year are translated into Arabic than
into Spanish for Spain. As a result, there is an intellectual disconnect and a
limited range. He mentioned that Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Khalid Abou El
Fadl, and Hamza Yusof were the best-known American Muslim authors.
The second panel, “Assessing the Current Influence of American Islamic
Thinkers on Islamic Thinkers in Iran, Turkey, and Africa,” featured Gholamreza
Aavani (Iranian Institute of Philosophy), Ibrahim Kalin (College of the
Holy Cross), and Suleyman Nyang (Howard University.” Aavani, in his “The ...

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