New course on Islam representation planned for Spring 2016
The Middle East is a dynamic and evolving topic in academia and politics, and one UH professor is eager to introduce students to its most widely practiced religion, Islam. Professor Hayan Charara, a poet and scholar who teaches in the Honors College, recently announced his plans to teach a course solely devoted to Islam’s representations in modern media.
“With the September 11, 2001 attacks as a reference point, we will study representations of Islam found in scholarship, literature, art, film, news, television, foreign and domestic policy,” Charara said in an email to Honors College students about the course. “(We’ll study) propaganda from Al-Qaeda and ISIS, paying close attention to the ways these texts construct Islam in the age of terror.”
Representing Islam: Literature, Arts and Ideology will be available for the first time in Spring 2016. While the course originates from the Honors College, it is also available to students from other colleges as an advanced-level elective. The course is listed as HON 4397 and will take place Mondays and Wednesdays from 1 to 2:30 p.m.
Charara said a major goal of the course is to offer students with critical interpretive skills for approaching Islam.
“Another goal is to look into the ways that anti-terrorism or counter-terrorism and security issues have changed the critical discourses about politics and ethics in our democracy,” Charara said. “Given that we’re in an election season, these issues are front and center, and what people are saying and thinking about Islam, explicitly or not, is informing the issues.”
Students will work creatively to complete a project that facilitates a clearer, more complex understand of Islam and its relationship to the West. For Charara, this course will be a means of creating an accurate image, examining the whol picture of Islam, and not just the stories in the news or popular media.
“While many people think that they either know very little or nothing at all about Islam, they are actually bombarded with information about it, on a daily basis,” Charara said. “Much of that information is either distorted, wrong or filtered through a very narrow lens. And the fact is, if someone wants to be informed and take Islam, and our relationship with it, seriously, whether a person is a Muslim or not, it makes sense to understand it from a broader, more accurate perspective.”
In the classroom, students will read a variety of first-hand accounts. As well as screening films and viewing art pieces, students will also read and discuss documents and stories written by or about those affected by Islam’s representation in the West.
“We’ll read stories from young Muslims living in Brooklyn and how their lives were transformed by the attacks of September 11, 2001,” Charara said. “We’ll read testimonies by experts on Islam made during congressional hearings. We’ll also read the 9/11 commission report in graphic novel form.”
Many students have expressed interest in the course and are signing up. English literature sophomore Madison Stephens said she is enrolled in the course.
“I am looking forward to the discussions that will happen both in and out of class,” Stephens said. “Healthy conversation on subjects such as Islam, the Middle East and terrorism are rare in our society today. I hope this course helps us better understand how to have these healthy conversations that society tends to shy away from.”
Other students, although not enrolled, said they are willing to look into the course. Education senior Wajiha Jawed said he would take the course and is interested because the perception of Islam has been overwhelmingly negative in films, literature and media since 2001.
“I think as a Muslim, I’d learn how to defend my religion when people would tell me that what they see on the media is accurate,” Jawed said. “For non-Muslims, I think they’d learn that Islam is a religion; a way of life that isn’t associated with some of the accusations it tends to receive.”
As the fall semester comes to the close, and expectations for the spring are rising, Charara said he is ready to take on the course and hopes to teach and learn new perspectives.
“As with all the courses I teach, I end up learning something,” Charara said. “I’m excited to work with students who will no doubt bring unique and eye-opening perspectives to the course, which will make it worthwhile not only for them, but for me too.”