Al-Ghazali lecture creates turmoil

Mustafa Abu Sway spoke to Elmhurst College at the Al-Ghazali lecture that took place in the Frick Center on April 15 that was met with criticism by Dexter Van Zile, a writer from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA). Abu Sway’s lecture focused on the many philosophical teachings of Al-Ghazali.

He prompted to the community that the intellectual voice that Islam provides is recognized and the numerous of teachings that Islam provides that promote peace-appropriate for the lecture titled “Spirituality in an Age of Violence- Al-Ghazali’s relevance today.”

Mustafa Abu Sway is dean of the College of Islamic Studies at Al-Quds University, and the Imam Al-Ghazali Chair at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Al-Quds University in Jerusalem.

“The essential message of Islam is truly the message of peace, but in order for us to solve the many conclcts that exist we cannot do it alone,” he said.

Van Zile, however, felt the need for the EC community to not just be wary of Abu Sway as a speaker but also to use the lecture as an opportunity to challenge him on many of the views and associations he’s had in the past.

“To put it as diplomatically as possible, the man who will be speaking on your campus next month has misinformed Western listeners about the status of non-Muslims in Muslim-majority environments and has egregiously downplayed the hateful rhetoric emanating from Al Aqsa Mosque, which he helps oversee,” he wrote in an email to the Leader on Mar. 17. “He has also obscured the hostility exhibited toward Jews in the Koran.

Zile explained that when he heard of Abu Sway’s schedule appearance at EC, based on the familiarity he has with the work of Abu Sway, he ought to inform the community of his views.

“Abu Sway has been an important player and figure and for a while interfaith dialogue hasn’t been robust,” he said. “I feel there was an obligation that the community knows who they are inviting.”

Zile has placed both association and direct accusation on Abu Sway for the mistreatment of Christians and Jews in the Middle East attributing him as a Muslim supremacist.

Inamul Haq, adjunct professor in the religious studies department, who organized the event dismissed the email by Zile expressing that Abu Sway was qualified for the lecture.

“Al-Ghazili believed in supremacy of spirituality and we think his message is very relevant because of the increasing violent period. It would be good to look at messages of spirituality instead of politics,” he said. “He is well rounded that he has seen both worlds, an American and a Palestinian society. He brings an intellectual perspective from two worlds.”

Haq took an indifferent approach to Zile’s email that he received from him and felt that the email was unjustified and had took no consideration towards the email.

“There is an attempt by one to silence the other and everybody wants only their story to be heard and others to be discarded, that is the nature of conflict,” he said. “We feel the criticism was not justified, he is not a political leader.”

“We liked his understanding and depth of Al-Ghazali thought and that’s what he’s talking about,” he said. “He’s not talking about Palestine-Israeli conflict.”

When Zile was asked about the lack of response he received from the college he wasn’t upset that he didn’t get a response and was not expecting one.

“I just wanted to give people information that what this really was all about,” he said. “People need to know who EC invited and challenge him for what he’s said in the past.”

Kevin Prehn, a freshman student who read the emails, argued that he did not take the writer seriously and referred to other articles he wrote about Abu Sway that weren’t mentioned in the email.

“I was surprised that somebody believed the speaker was toxic and that they were using strong terms like ‘supremist’ to describe him,” he said. “My impression was that he was making a fair case against him, but the author’s possible christain bias made me take his arguments lightly.”

By the end of the lecture there was no backlash met to the speaker as Abu Swa’s lecture was described by almni attendee Naveed Ganjani focusing on “the normative significance and contemporary relevance of certain Qur’anic passages.”

Photo by David Campos-Contreras