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The Academic Boycott vs. the Truth of Islamic Education in Israel

1:52 PM, Jun 14, 2011 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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In 2008, Vehbi Bajrami, an Albanian American journalist of Muslim background, visited Al-Qasemi and wrote in Illyria, the Albanian-language semiweekly he publishes in New York, that the school was conceived by the Sufis as a means of allowing Israeli Muslims to study their religion without going abroad and receiving “ideas that were deemed inappropriate for the community.” Bajrami was told by Dalia Fadila, a lecturer in English literature at Al-Qasemi, “It is unfortunate that most of the programs for studying Islam in Muslim academic institutions are driven by dogmatic frameworks of thought that would make sense only centuries ago.”

Al-Qasemi is nothing like the radical madrassas that proliferate in Muslim lands. With the help of the Israeli authorities, it has become a model Muslim college. It is unique within Israel’s borders today, although the country also has a much smaller Arab Christian college, Mar Elias College (also known as the Nazareth Academic Institute, NAI), established in 2002 as a branch of the University of Indianapolis, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. In 2009 the Israeli government approved the establishment of Mar Elias University, which must subsist on private donations for five years before it qualifies for state funds. Several other Christian academic institutions operate in Israel, but serve students coming to the Holy Land from abroad.

During the conference, a number of students asked me, rather shyly, if I thought Sufism could bring peace to the Middle East. I answered honestly that I do not know and hesitate to make predictions. But an institution like Al-Qasemi is certainly preferable to a Wahhabi madrassa or an Iranian-backed Shia seminary of the kind found in Lebanon, to say nothing of the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and the terrorism of Hamas and Hezbollah. It remains a powerful reason why boycotts against Israel deserve to fail.

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