September 13, 2005

Panel Discusses Diaspora

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Yesterday, a woman wearing a white headscarf over her dark black hair sat next to a man with pale skin wearing a dark business suit. To the right sat another man whose stark white hair contrasted starkly with his black skin and who wore a gold, black and green embroidered scarf. All were Muslim and sitting in the Myers Room of Warren Hall to discuss whether there is a Muslim diaspora.

The panel discussion, entitled “Is there a Muslim Diaspora? Promises and Challenges of Islam in Europe, Africa, and North America,” was the first lecture Bassam Tibi has conducted as an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large. Tibi, director of the Center for International Affairs at the University of Göttingen, Germany, is on his third trip to Cornell. He has lectured at Cornell before and said that seven departments nominated him for the A. D. White Professor-at-Large position.

Prof. Davydd Greenwood, anthropology, introduced the three speakers: Nimat Hafez Barazangi, a research fellow in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Cornell; Tibi; and Ali Mazrui, a former Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large and Senior Scholar at the Africana Studies and Research Center. Mazrui talked about Africa, which Tibi continually praised during the discussion for its successful integration of Islam into African culture, a feat that Europe and much of North America have yet to achieve despite their large Muslim populations.

Barazangi, who originally came up with the idea for the event, addressed the self-marginalization of Muslims. Touched upon the contention between Islam’s integration into North America’s culture and criticized the American government structure for not accepting differences. She concluded her speech by asking the audience, “What would be the effect of accepting Islam as part of the United States culture?”

Tibi who lived in Germany for forty years, claimed that Western Europe currently has a population of 18 million Muslims and by 2040 thirty-five million “Muslim migrants” will be living in Western Europe. He used the word “migrants” to express the exclusion of Muslims from European civilization.

He spoke of the need for change in Islam, such as eliminating some of the gender bias practices in order for a European Islam to develop.

“What is needed in Europe is what the Africans have accomplished,” Tibi said.

Tibi also focused on the diversity of Islam across the world. A concept he learned in 1982 when he lived in Senegal and encountered “AfroIslam” for the first time.

Tibi found that such diversity runs in contention with some of the higher authorities of Islam. At Al-Azhat University in Cairo, Egypt, one of the world’s oldest Universities and foremost school on Sunni Islamic law, a professor told Tibi, “There is only one Islam. Islam is not a buffet.”

The last speaker, Mazrui, claimed that in the course of the century, Africa will become the first continent with a majority of Muslims. On the question of a diaspora, Mazrui said Islam has spread throughout Africa from the transmission of ideas rather then the migration of a people.

Mazrui claimed that Islam came to Africa by conquest, migration, settlement, and ironically, by Muslim slaves brought to South Africa approximately three hundred years ago.

“Islam arrived in chains in the land that became the home of apartheid,” Mazrui said.

Mazrui acknowledge that a unique Islam has developed incorporating African values. He claims one fault now is that leaders of overwhelmingly Muslim countries are often Christian.

Finally, Mazrui addressed the July 21st failed bombing attempt in London, which was planned by primarily African Muslims. Unlike their Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern predecessors on July 7th, the July 21st attackers did not use suicide bombing techniques, which may have led to their failure. Mazrui reasons that suicide bombers were not used because of the strong taboos in African culture against killing oneself.

A tape of the discussion will be available at the Institute for European Studies.

Archived article by Casey Holmes
Sun Staff Writer