Q:What college did you go to? What field did you study? My dream is to write as great as you someday!
I went to Kenyon College in Ohio and I double-majored in Religious Studies and English.
Most of my Religious Studies classes were about Islam. I am especially interested in narratives about Islam’s spread out of the Arab world into Central Asia and West Africa in the centuries after the Prophet’s life. My thesis was about how the Uzbek people came to identify as Muslim, and how their conversion narratives are so vastly different from the “Islam spread by the sword” story that we tend to hear in the West.
For my English major, I wasn’t as focused, but I read a lot of 19th century British female writers, because that was the main interest of one of my favorite professors. But I also read a lot of American literature and ended up writing my senior thesis on this weird little book Mark Twain wrote about Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science, one of the most interesting and important religious sects to emerge in the U.S. in the 19th century. But I also wrote a lot about Keats and Charlotte Bronte and George Eliot and Toni Morrison and James Joyce and many others.
None of which has worked its way into any of my books, so…
Q:Do you consider yourself an "islamaphobe"?
I majored in Religious Studies with a focus on Islamic history and have written extensively for newspapers and magazines about Islamic history and Islamic faith and practice. I have immense respect for Islam and so far as I can remember have never said anything negative about Islam.
This is one of the weirder things that tumblr has started accusing me of, just because my academic life has been so centered around the study of Islam, and because in my writing and videos I’ve so frequently attacked the Islamophobic ideas (the clash of civilizations worldview, etc.) that have done so much damage to American foreign policy in the past 30 years.
Anyway, Happy Eid!!!!
“We’re taught that ‘our’ history is the history of Christianity in Europe, when in fact, ‘our’ history is the story of people on the planet.”
I made this video for people who don’t know much about early Islamic history. I made it because I find it weird and disconcerting that we in the so-called West spend so much time thinking and worrying about the Islamic world—but by and large we don’t spend very much time delving into the history of Islam and understanding the world from which it emerged.
So…yeah. I really think you’re going to learn something this week.