Q. The info at the website says you are a specialist not only in Islamic studies, but in religion. I have also checked out the courses that you teach and you do teach world religions, and in fact, your Master's Degree focused on the three Abrahamic faiths. Don't you think it is your duty as a Muslim scholar to respond to the nasty material published by Islamophobes by highlighting the nasty aspects of other religions?

A. There are certain things to consider under the circumstances. In the first place, most of the nonsense about Islam comes from people who parade themselves as scholars, when in fact they are not. Even in the case of those who are educated about Islam, and in some cases have left Islam to join other faiths, they have resorted to the vilest prevarication, perhaps to earn a few dollars from a gullible public (and various other reasons). It is true that I specialize in religion, with emphasis on Abrahamic Religions, but that is precisely why I don't waste time attempting to denigrate the other religions. When a person takes time to seek to debunk and debase another religion, that tells me that such a person is unsure of what he/she has for his/her own.

All religions have a certain element that allows for nonsensical interpretations. As a frequent participant in interfaith dialogue, I follow the views of Professors Hans Kung and Leonard Swidler, who opine that we ought to bring out the best in religion by working together to achieve the common goals of our ethical values. I TEACH religion, and for me, that means dealing with the truth. It also means that I am concerned with what religious beliefs do for those who profess them. Even though I do not believe, for example, in the divinity of Jesus, I will NOT take time to attempt to debunk the theory, but rather see how such a belief affects the ethics of observant Christians. And this viewpoint does not leave me any room to write bad material about Christianity. Same goes, mutatis mutandis, for Judaism.  Of course, when I am asked direct questions about Judaism and Christianity -- indeed about any religion -- I sometimes answer in a manner that seems to debunk a particular belief. However, that is done from the perspective of history and absolute proof, rather than an urge to belittle. The Qur'an says to repay evil with that which is better, and that is what I see as my duty. May God help and guide us to be better citizens of the world.

Posted June 18, 2008