Scholars discuss Quran, misconceptions of Islamic faith

Christian+scholar+Garry+Wills+and+Muslim+chaplain+Tahera+Ahmad+discuss+the+Qur%E2%80%99an+during+a+Thursday+event+at+Evanston+Township+High+School.+Both+agreed+many+have+misunderstood+the+Islamic+faith+and+there+should+be+a+greater+understanding+of+other+religions.+++
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Scholars discuss Quran, misconceptions of Islamic faith

Christian scholar Garry Wills and Muslim chaplain Tahera Ahmad discuss the Qur’an during a Thursday event at Evanston Township High School. Both agreed many have misunderstood the Islamic faith and there should be a greater understanding of other religions.

Christian scholar Garry Wills and Muslim chaplain Tahera Ahmad discuss the Qur’an during a Thursday event at Evanston Township High School. Both agreed many have misunderstood the Islamic faith and there should be a greater understanding of other religions.

Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Christian scholar Garry Wills and Muslim chaplain Tahera Ahmad discuss the Qur’an during a Thursday event at Evanston Township High School. Both agreed many have misunderstood the Islamic faith and there should be a greater understanding of other religions.

Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Christian scholar Garry Wills and Muslim chaplain Tahera Ahmad discuss the Qur’an during a Thursday event at Evanston Township High School. Both agreed many have misunderstood the Islamic faith and there should be a greater understanding of other religions.

Julia Esparza, Reporter

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Christian scholar Garry Wills said he felt ashamed when his colleague asked him why, after all the time Wills had spent studying religion, he had never read the Quran.

On Thursday at Evanston Township High School, Wills told nearly 160 community members that after the conversation, he immediately began reading the sacred text. At the event, Wills discussed his 2017 book about the Quran and encouraged the audience to also learn about the Islamic faith.

“We live in a world where we can’t afford to be so ignorant of each other, as I was of the Quran,” said Wills, who is Catholic.

Wills, an emeritus history professor at Northwestern and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, writer and journalist, said he has spent his career studying how religion and politics intersect.

At the event — sponsored by Family Action Network, a nonprofit that organizes speaker series for the community — NU associate chaplain Tahera Ahmad, who is Muslim, and Wills discussed the modern interpretations of the Quran and how the Islamic faith is often misunderstood.

Lonnie Stonitsch, executive director of Family Action Network, said the nonprofit invited Wills as a speaker because the team believed the Evanston community would be receptive to the event.

“Evanston is a very diverse community, it’s a very progressive community and I think (the audience) appreciated the interesting juxtaposition of a Catholic scholar and a Muslim scholar,” Stonitsch said.

Wills said despite the fact that roughly a quarter of the world is Muslim, many Americans believe the Quran advocates for hate and is a “war manual.” Wills said false assumptions and fear of the religion launched the ongoing War in Afghanistan in 2001.

“Trying to understand a different culture, a different religion, is vital,” he said. “It’s what we do when we have people telling us, ‘Islam hates us, we’ve got to go get them.’”

Wills and Ahmad spoke about Americans’ common misconceptions that the Islamic faith lacks the modernity of women’s rights and LGBTQ acceptance.

Ahmad pointed to instances in the Quran that protect women and tolerate homosexuality. She said the Muslim practice of giving a dowry to a woman demonstrates increased rights, and being a part of the LGBTQ community is a “personal matter” rather than a public one.

Every Muslim interprets the Quran differently, Ahmad said. Each person’s understanding of the faith is a personal journey and is continuously evolving, even if non-Muslims don’t recognize that aspect, she said.

“A lot of folks think that somehow Islam has not gone through the same kind of … reformation as the Protestant Reformation,” Ahmad said. “But if you read Muslim history, you see that Islam as an actual tradition has gone through a lot of different stages and phases of its own.”

Bill Winschief, a Wilmette resident who attended the event, said he appreciated the discussion between Ahmad and Wills on the religion.

Winschief said it was interesting to hear how Ahmad framed her own “modernist” sense of Islam.

“Any opportunity to expand your horizons and see what makes religions different and what they have in common is really beneficial to a community,” Winschief said.

Email: juliainesesparza2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @juliaesparza10

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