U of M professor visits Oakland to share his insights on Islam and xenophobia

In western culture, the Prophet Muhammad is portrayed as a war-monger and as a result, Islam is widely perceived as a religion of violence and intolerance.

University of Michigan historian, scholar and author of the weblog “Informed Comment,” Juan Cole, challenged this concept in a presentation he gave at Oakland University on Thursday, Nov. 1 in Banquet Room A of the Oakland Center.

The talk explored the topic of his new book, “Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires,” and was sponsored by the Hajja Razia Sharif Sheikh Endowment for Islamic Understanding, which supports programs focused on educating students and the community about Islam.

Associate Professor of Spanish Adolfo Campoy-Cubillo assisted Alan Epstein, professor of political science and director of the Religious Studies program, and Anja Weiden, assistant professor of German, in the selection of Cole as the speaker for the event.

Campoy-Cubillo reported that he was initially very intrigued by Cole’s work. He stated that Cole’s work is important because it eliminates any social biases and delivers straight forward historical facts about the muslim religion.

“Professor Juan Cole has a very distinguished career as a historian of the Arabic world, and he is also very close to us because he teaches at the University of Michigan,” Campoy-Cubillo said. “We thought it would be a great opportunity for him to share his research and knowledge at Oakland.”

While introducing Cole before the lecture, Campoy-Cabillo brought up the topic of the recent massacre at the Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Cole described his thoughts on what needs to be done moving forward, about Western culture holding a misinformed view of Islam through the event that took place in Pittsburgh.

“There is a movement in response to Pittsburgh that people should seek out their local synagogues and attend, in order to get to know their Jewish neighbors, and understand the worship that goes on there,” he said.

In regard to this, he discussed a verse in the Quran that complains about attacks on houses of worship that took place during the war between the Roman Empire and Iran.

“The Quran insists that houses of worship no matter the god, should be treated with reverence,” Cole said.  

He also referenced his research in opinion polling in the social sciences which make it perfectly clear that a person is less likely to develop ethnic hatreds if they know someone of a different religion, or ethnic background.

Cole said his genuine interest in religion and history is owed to his upbringing in a military family.

“When I was a teenager my father was stationed in the middle east and that is what piqued my interest,” Cole said.

He stated that being surrounded by different cultures made him less afraid of them and that is the best way to defeat xenophobia in the United States.

Cole believes more Americans should visit Synagogues to get to know their Jewish neighbors, and furthermore, consider going into Mosques to get to know their Muslim neighbors.

“I just think people need to know each other better,” Cole said.