Saddleback College hosts online teach-in on Islam and Arab culture

Islam taken by Roo Chand | Flickr

The teach-in covered topics including polygamy and Eurocentrism

At the Islam and Arab culture teach-in last Wednesday, the point came up that the term “Middle East” is quite literally Eurocentric, said Dany Doueiri, Professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at California State University, San Bernadino.

Doueiri discussed how the term “Middle East” is rooted in Eurocentrism, since the name originates from a worldview of Europe being the center of the entire world. Furthermore, the region described as the Middle East is diverse enough in culture and religion that simplifying it down to the “Middle East” is highly inaccurate, Doueiri said.

Dany Doueiri is from Lebanon, and after arriving in the United States, lived with his brother in San Diego while earning a bachelor’s degree at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He would go on to further earn a master’s degree from the University of California, Davis and a doctoral degree at the University of California, Los Angeles, according to the California State University website.

The teach-in was held online, over Zoom, with Dany Douiri leading the teach-in with assistance from the International Languages Department including Spanish and Arabic Professor Amina Yassine, French Professor Bouchra Nadeau, as well as Spanish Professor Carmenmara Hernandez Bravo, according to the campus website. During the teach-in, a form was also available for students to ask questions.

The teach-in opened with an introduction to and a rebuttal of some of the most common stereotypes surrounding both Muslims and Arabs, including the concept that almost all Muslims are Arabs.

“Arabs are only 18% of Muslims in the world of roughly about 1.8 billion Muslims,” Douiri said.

Douiri went on to discuss the background of that stereotype, which is rooted in the strong connection between Arabic and Islam, a connection rooted in Islam’s Arab origins. However, as Islam spread, while the language of the Quran was still Arabic, outside influences caused both the alphabet and the script to change, he said.

“As Islam spread, people couldn’t read Arabic when they didn’t know the language well,” Douiri said. “So the Arabic language itself, the script that you have today, developed because of that. The dotting, the vowling, all of this developed because of Islam.” Douiri said.

The reality of marriage in Islam is very different from the picture often painted in the West, with every remotely powerful Muslim having a seemingly endless supply of wives within his harem, as well as polygamy being a concept that Islam introduced to the Arab world and its neighbors, Doueiri said.

“Islam didn’t allow polygamy – Islam limited polygamy,” Doueiri said.

Prior to Islam’s emergence, polygymous marriages often could reach enormous numbers of wives, ranging anywhere from two marriages to hundreds of wives, he said. Islam established a number of standards surrounding polygymous marriages.

“Islamically speaking, you could have up to four wives, but if you read the nuances of the Quran,” Doueiri said.. “One of the verses of the Quran says you have to treat them all equally, and you will never be able to treat them equally, therefore stick to one. It’s a very beautiful verse in the Quran.”

While the teach-in continued further on the topic, in summary while there is not necessarily a hard limit on who can have multiple wives, it is expected that regardless of social class each wife must be able to live with the same quality of life in the home as the husband, wives need to be both visited equally and treated equally, he said.

In response to student’s question, Doueiri discussed the role of Muhammad in Islam.

“So Muslims sometimes consider him, like the best examples of everything.” Doueiri said. “But in no form that we will say you know what ‘I love Muhammad more than I love some other prophets,’ we really love them all. But some people will go that extra mile to say you know what Muhammad is the best of the best, nobody gets close to him.”

Several other points of trivia came up as well, such as some of the scientists on the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine being Muslims, the existence of “Eid Muslims” in a similar fashion to “Christmas Christians,” who only attend religious services around the holidays, as well as Thomas Jefferson’s Quran and accusations made against him of being a Muslim, Doueiri said.

For the presentation’s co-organizer Amina Yassine, a Spanish and Arabic instructor at Saddleback, this topic is “a golden opportunity” for students to confront misinformation dating back to 9/11, she said.