Deacon Ian Punnett –
Over the past year, a consistent joy for me has been working on this column for Arizona Muslim Voice, learning more about Islam, and interacting with many readers on common points of interest during this crazy political season. Due to growing academic commitments and the completion of my PhD, it has become harder for me to focus on much else, however. I hope I have been a voice of reason and support when Donald Trump and his minions were resorting to Muslim-bashing to scare votes away from potential legitimate leaders. Judging by the current polls, the danger has passed; Trump will not be the next president of the United States.
But while it’s likely that Trump will go away (at least for a while), what has not passed is the ugly cloud that he seeded with his super-charged Islamophobic rhetoric. It was telling during the second debate when asked what he would do to quell Muslim scapegoating, Trump’s answer was, “You’re right about Islamophobia and that’s a shame,” but then he went on to incite further suspicions of Muslims by repeating unsubstantiated rumors about the apartment of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, perpetrators of the San Bernardino massacre: “Many people saw the bombs all over the apartment.”
Polling data shows that undereducated, white, male voters are still the core of Trump’s support. They may be greater in number, but they are not alone. In fact, while I was lunching at the university faculty lounge the other day, I heard a man with a PhD at the table next to me make a Trumpian claim that, “Really, of the great institutions of the West—academia, banking, industry—Islam cannot take credit for any of them.” It’s not that unusual to see an educated man say something that ignorant (I mean, even Trump has an MBA), but what struck me was how non-critically the others at the table seemed to accept this professor’s baseless diatribe.
As a reader of this column might have assumed over the last year and a half, I am not shy about sharing my opinions, but in this case, I kept my tongue and just listened. “The world runs on banking, and Islam did not create that,” this professor went on to say before reiterating, “Islam did not contribute to the great institutions of the West.”
If only Rachida El Diwani, professor of Comparative Literature at Alexandria University, Alexandria, Egypt, had been sitting nearby. In preparation for a previous column, I had read her paper, “Islamic Contributions to the West,” but I could not recall the details, and I was late to teach a class, so instead of stammering out a flawed answer to that highly educated bigot at the table next to me, I submit my response now instead:
“Sir, you are right that Islam did nothing to contribute to the West, as you say, but only if you discount the importance of scholasticism and the scientific method on which academia was founded, the rationalism that undergirded the Enlightenment, the humanism that is the bedrock of the U.S. Constitution, the codification of mathematics and the invention of algebra and higher geometry that makes all technological developments possible, the early formulation of modern astronomy that is responsible for the American flag on the moon, the practice of scientific medical breakthroughs that were not rooted in magical thinking, and the material culture in which all people of Earth live, such as seafaring trade, agriculture, industry, architecture and books.
“The contributions of faithful Muslims—and by extension, Islam—meant nothing more or less than catapulting the West out of the Middle Ages.”
With the resistant popularity of Donald Trump—and even educated people passing off cynicism for wisdom with regard to Islam—obviously, there are still those that are rooted in Dark Ages philosophies of European Christocentric superiority. It is my hope that I have done my part to challenge the stagnation that can set in on any belief system, and catapult a few more of the mental malingerers of medievalism into the now. Amen.