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Photo of Harvard professor Ali S. Asani. // Photo courtesy of Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard.

UCalgary hosts lecture on Muslim culture

By Manahil Hassan, April 2 2020—

One could say that the lecture presented by professor Ali S. Asani paved the way to a better understanding of Islam.

On March 4, the University of Calgary hosted its first talk in a series of lectures on Muslim culture presented by professor Asani, a summa cum laude graduate of Harvard University who came to Calgary to present on misinformation on Islam. The goal of this captivating talk was to combat illiteracy regarding the religion in political, social and media spaces and to further advance the journey to a greater nuanced perspective on Islam. 

Professor Asani shared a few instances where misinformation about Islam caused hurt and harm to members of the Muslim community. One of his students at Harvard was strangled by a stranger using her hijab. In another situation, two high school students in Vancouver, British Columbia, reached out to the professor after their peers constantly asked them if they were terrorists. 

With fresh beverages and light refreshments to sustain members of the audience, Professor Asani began his lecture with a question of, “Why do they hate us?” the talk proceeded with an explanation about the broad question. While some non-Muslims assume Muslims hate the United States, members of the Muslim community in places such as Pakistan assume that Americans hate Muslims. 

Throughout the ensuing lecture, the instructor provided various reasons as to why religion remained such a vital marker of difference. For one, many individuals in society have developed a tendency to categorize others based on one dimension, one label. Quite rightly, however, it was shared that we should label jars and not humans. Additionally, statistics such as the fact that one attack propagated by a Muslim receives 300 per cent more attention from the media than one from a non-Muslim, were used to support reasons why engaging and understanding others was so important. 

When asked in an interview what it was like to live in Kenya, he stated that “society was strictly divided along racial lines […] There was no mingling. There were separate schools, separate institutions, you couldn’t go to the same restaurant. So, I grew up with all of this and the biggest question for me growing up [was] why did God create us different?”

His father then told him that he was created differently as an opportunity for him to learn. As a child, Asani was aware of the divide between Muslims and other religions but it was specifically after 9/11 that he decided to venture beyond his classroom and give talks at campus events, schools and even synagogues and churches. 

Now, in his sabbatical year, the professor is conducting research on the connection between religion, literature and music. 

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