Feature: Aloha for Islam

UH Mānoa faculty teaching in the new Undergraduate Certificate in Islamic Studies Program include, from left, Elton L. Daniel (History), Ned Bertz (History), Paul Lavy (Art History), James D. Frankel (Religion) and Tamara Albertini (Philosophy).

UH Mānoa faculty teaching in the new Undergraduate Certificate in Islamic Studies Program include, from left, Elton L. Daniel (History), Ned Bertz (History), Paul Lavy (Art History), James D. Frankel (Religion) and Tamara Albertini (Philosophy).

Half a world away from the Arabian desert where the Prophet Muhammad established his teachings in the seventh century, and seemingly distant from contemporary affairs in the Middle East, is Hawai`i a place to engage in the study of Islamic religion, culture and history? Definitely, says Philosophy Associate Professor Tamara Albertini, who established a new Undergraduate Certificate in Islamic Studies in the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa in 2010.

Albertini believes the 50th State can be a springboard for the study of Islam in the Pacific and to the east. And she is not the only believer. The new undergraduate certificate program has gathered an impressive mélange of faculty members, ranging from History Professor Elton L. Daniel to Religion Assistant Professor James D. Frankel to Art History Assistant Professor Paul Lavy. They are united by the recognition that Hawai‘i’s strategic location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean naturally promotes Islamic interests in the east. And Islam is the largest religion practiced in Asia, drawing a billion followers or about 25 percent of the continent’s total population. More than 60 percent of the world’s Muslims live in Asia, with Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh having the four largest Muslim populations in the world.

“Islamic civilization permeates Asia, and because Hawai‘i could be profoundly affected by developments in Muslim Asia, UH Mānoa is in a good position to teach the importance of Islam in places like Fiji and Southeast Asia,” said Daniel, who leads classes such as Introduction to Islam, Making of the Modern Middle East, and Crisis and Conflict in the Modern Middle East.

To earn the certificate, students must earn nine core credits in History, Religion, and Philosophy and six credits from a list of elective courses that can include the Arabic language, and a research project. Internships are also available to those who want to immerse themselves in Islamic art collections at storied Shangri-La estate, the Islamic-style mansion built by heiress Doris Duke near Diamond Head. Nestled in East O‘ahu, Shangri-La is owned by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art in cooperation with the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Whether cultivating an appreciation for the Islamic culture via art or academia, the need for understanding never falters. In fact, it increases as more Americans are affected by international relations issues—whether due to military involvement in the Muslim world, or the effects of political unrest in Islamic countries and their impact on gas prices. As awareness grows, so too will course offerings for the Undergraduate Certificate in Islamic Studies. “Hawai‘i is in a unique position to promote a fair and balanced understanding of Islamic religion and values,” says Albertini. “Here, individuals of different religious convictions not only live side by side, but also interact with one another on a daily basis and, as a result, participate in each other’s celebrations.”

For more information on the Undergraduate Certificate in Islamic Studies, call James Frankel at (808) 956-4202 or email him at jamesdf@hawaii.edu.

Top photo: The qur`an is the central religious text of Islam. ~crystalina~/Flickr

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