Middle East studies in the News
Idaho State University Professor Shares Insight Into Islamic Culture [on Zackery Heern]
by Michael H. O'Donnell
Idaho State University professor of Middle East and Islamic studies Zackery Heern summed up what everyone attending Thursday's Pocatello Rotary luncheon already knew.
"A lot of what we hear in the news is not necessarily positive," Heern said.
Given the ongoing war with the Islamic State, or ISIS, and continuing friction with Iran, Heern's assessment was on point. But the ISU professor shared insight into the Islamic religion — about one-fifth of the world's population — that tried to reveal there is more to Muslims than the violence and hatred of the western world that many people fear today.
Heern said Muslims are a diverse community with 1.6 billion members.
"When you're taking about one-fifth of the planet, of course there's some violent people," Heern said.
In a presentation entitled "Islamic Culture: Past Contributions and Contemporary Challenges," Heern walked Rotarians through a brief history of the Muslim religion and its rapid spread through the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
Heern shared that Indonesia has the largest percentage of Muslims in the world.
Founded by Islamic prophet Muhammed in Mecca, the Muslim faith based on Muhammed's revelations as documented in the Quran spread relatively quickly in the region, according to Heern. He said the Islamic faith was both a social and economic justice movement as well as a religious one.
"The spread of this movement happened incredibly fast," Heern said.
Heern said that in the post 9/11 era it's easy to lose sight of some of the contributions the Muslim world has made to the advancement of civilization. These include trigonometry, algebra and the decimal system. Muslims also started the first school of pharmacy, and Ibn Sina's "Canon of Medicine" was used throughout Europe for many decades, according to Heern.
The Islamic world also gave the world coffee, almonds and the art of calligraphy.
Heern said it's important to understand that western influences were seen as a threat to Islamic tradition and culture and it led to friction in the 19th and 20th centuries. After World War I, France and Great Britain arbitrarily set up the borders for Arab nations.
"The goal was always economics and not building democracy," Heern said.
Talking about more recent events in the Middle East, Heern said that the rise of ISIS is something that began when the U.S. backed Afghan rebels during their war with the Soviet Union. With arms and money flowing into these pockets of Muslim fighters, Heern said it set the stage for future developments.
"ISIS broke away from Al-Qaeda because Al-Qaeda wasn't crazy enough," Heern said.
The ISU professor said he predicts that the strength of the ISIS movement and its claim of a caliphate will continue to diminish because the majority of Muslims reject the philosophy and military efforts to shrink the territory held by ISIS in Iraq and Syria is working.
Heern stressed that Muslims around the world are diverse and the majority do not embrace the notion that violence is acceptable.
Following his presentation, Heern signed copies of his book, "The Emergence of Modern Shi'ism: Islamic Reform in Iraq and Iran," for Rotarians interested in buying a copy.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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