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Islam and Peace: The 19th Annual Peace Studies Conference at Saint John’s University
(September 18, 2006)

Profiled by Discover The Networks in March 2009

On September 18, 2006, Saint John’s University held its 19th annual Peace Studies Conference titled “Islam and Peace.” The conference was sponsored by the University’s Islamic Studies Task Force, the Peace Studies Department, the Department of Theology, and the Campus Ministry. The featured speakers included the following professors, scholars, and activists:

Qamar-ul Huda

Qamar-ul Huda is an Islamic scholar and a senior program officer at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC. His research interests include: “Islamic thought and philosophy on violence, nonviolence and conflict resolution.”

Huda has stated that since the September 11th terrorist attacks, prejudice against Muslims has become widespread in the United States, and that Muslims have come under unfair scrutiny by the U.S. government:

Since 9/11, I have seen my country adopt Islamophobia without hesitation. Things like the Patriot Act, the forthcoming Patriot Act II, new Citizenship and Immigration Services registration regulations, government surveillance of Arab and Muslim American communities and infiltration of places of worship have directly affected U.S. Muslims. I have listened as Christian evangelical leaders demonized Islam, calling the prophet Muhammad a pedophile.”

Huda was a signatory to a statement written to rebuff claims made in the DVD Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West (a DVD that presented a factual description of the threat posed by fundamentalist Islam). “This is a testament to how widely acceptable antiMuslim prejudice has become in our country,” the statement contended; “…Obsession serves as a divisive political ploy that undermines the integrity of American religious pluralism.” Other signatories of the statement included: the terrorist sympathizer Salam Al-Marayati (founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council) and Nihad Awad (Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations).

Owais Bayunus

Owais Bayunus is a Council of Trustees member for the Islamic Center of Minnesota.

Bayunus writes a regular blog as part of a project titled Engage Minnesota, which seeks “to give voice to a community that is being attacked and defined from a position of ignorance.” “Muslims are finding themselves voiceless, discussed, defined, categorized, psychoanalyzed, talked at and talked about without a serious attempt at inclusion,” this project contends.

In one blog entry posted in June 2008 (titled “
Changing the Media’s Relationship to Muslims”), Bayunus discusses what he characterizes as popular misconceptions of Islam, such as the idea that Islam preaches intolerance and the inferiority of women:

Justice is the root of Islam. If you open the Qur’an, justice is always emphasized, because Muslims believe God is a just God. There are several passages in the Qur’an revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, and also there are several traditions of the Prophet himself in which equal justice for men and women, boss and subordinate, white or black, have been directly or indirectly emphasized... Because there is no difference between the genders in Islam as far as religious obligations are concerned, what is obligatory for men is also obligatory for women.”

Bayunus also condemns the media’s portrayal of Islam as a violent religion. He decries the “extreme interpretation of a few who unfortunately make the news.”

Brendan LaRocque

Brendan LaRocque is a professor of South Asian history who has taught at Xavier University, Macalester College, and the College of St. Benedict. LaRocque is also active in the anti-war movement and “progressive” children's theater.

LaRocque was a signatory to a January 2009 Open Letter, addressed to President Barack Obama, calling for the United States to change its policies towards Israel. This letter portrayed Israel as a racist entity whose own unjust policies have provoked the terrorism that Arabs have carried out upon it:

“That Israel has been America's beneficiary, unchallenged in its war crimes and in its acts of terror, uncontested for its racist civil constitution and illegal occupations, has not been to the United States' advantage. On the contrary, such unquestioning support of Israel has fuelled the legitimate anger of the Islamic world, supplied the justification for terrorism, and continually tarnished the United States' reputation among the democracies of the world.”

LaRocque has expressed similar sentiments in his own writings. In a critique of a 2007 Vanity Fair article written by Christopher Hitchens (wherein Hitchens credits extremist religious ideology for the rise of jihadism in England), LaRocque criticizes Hitchens’ theory and instead blames “de-historicized Islamic culture.” “If we ignore the role of European colonialism in constructing communalism and fundamentalism,” LaRocque writes, “we will certainly misapprehend the nature and causes of contemporary extremism.”


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