Reza Jalali, a Muslim scholar, writer and educator who is the coordinator of multicultural affairs at the University of Southern Maine, recently visited Bowdoin to give a talk on Muslims in Maine and in the United States.
The Muslim Student Association and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life invited Jalali, who made a point in his talk to speak about the imperative of building “inclusive communities of understanding and respect.” He added, “there has never been such a critical need for conversation such as that of this evening.”
Jalali is from Kurdistan, an Iranian province, and has lived in Maine since the 1980s.
The Islamic faith is growing across the country, Jalali pointed ou. “America is a nation of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, etc. No longer does being American confine you to one faith,” he said.
And Muslims have long been a part of the United States’ history, he recounted. Muslims sailed with Columbus on his 1492 expedition. Muslim soldiers fought in the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
Jalali advised his listeners to be mindful of the myths of Islam, such as it being an intolerant faith or that all of its adherents are Arabs. The average mosque can be the most multinational and multicultural center of a town or city, he observed, and these religious centers also often help new immigrants adapt to this country.
He then compared the integration of Muslims in the United States versus those in Europe, concluding that Muslims feel less excluded here from the mainstream society. He described how welcoming he felt the United States could be to his faith. “We study, we work, we pay taxes, we catch colds in the winter, we have to be model citizens,” he said. “The only difference is that we pray a few times a day.”
He added, “We feel as American as anyone else.”