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Our Limited Study of Islam

Wednesday, April 20, 2005; Page A24

While I applaud the initiatives laid out by Peter Berkowitz and Michael McFaul in their April 12 op-ed, "Studying Islam, Strengthening the Nation," I found it curious that they limited their reach to the geographic Middle East with regard to languages -- Arabic, Persian (or Farsi) and Turkish.

More than half of all Muslims live in South and Southeast Asia; Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, trailed by India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

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Signs of militant extremist Islam have appeared in Indonesia, Thailand and the southern Philippines. And Pakistan is ostensibly the birthplace of the Taliban, with many al Qaeda terrorists and supporters arrested there. To ignore these areas in this proposal on studying Islam is akin to ignoring Eastern Europe during the Cold War.



Peter Berkowitz and Michael McFaul's portrayal of the study of Islam in our universities was accurate.

My interest is the political, religious, cultural and historical climate of the Middle East, and I want to study Arabic. But while searching for a college, I found that only a few schools taught Arabic. Many did not offer it as a minor or a major, only as a language. Even fewer schools offered a major or a minor in Middle Eastern or Islamic studies. I settled for being an international studies major with a minor in Arabic and Arab studies (at American University).

In light of recent history, it is unacceptable for our schools to continue to neglect such a fascinating, and important, region and religion.



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