As a part of the College of William and Mary’s Islamic Awareness week, the Muslim Students Association hosted a panel discussion on cross-cultural perspectives.
Four speakers from the Williamsburg community spoke about their perspectives on Islamic culture and its relation to the Western world. Associate professor of history Chitalekha Zutchi, community member Farrokh S. Namazi, assistant professor of history Ayfer Karakaya-Stump and graduate student Rony Kalfarisi, represented India, Iran, Turkey and Indonesia, respectively.
The panel discussed the possible perception that Islam is a monolithic religion and cultural tradition, while in reality, Muslims in each country stem from diverse backgrounds and practice Islam in different ways.
“We need to break down the idea of Islam as a monolithic religious context and present the diversity of Islam,” Zutchi said. “Instead of talking about Islam, we should be talking about Islamicate; this encompasses not just Islam as a religion, but as a social and political [institution].”
Karakaya-Stump says that although the history of Islam is rattled with foreign invasions and conquest, the faith remains strong.
“The influences that happened through empires and marriage of peoples is what stays embedded within you, even though religion changes,” Karakaya-Stump said. “Things don’t really change, you can change your religion, but there are so many things that are a part of your life that become centralized and stay the same.”
The panelists also agreed that western influence is prevalent in the Muslim world.
“Iran has a strong education system and is very technologically advanced, yet the people themselves get excited about anything that is western,” Karakaya-Stump said.
While western influence in the Islamic world isn’t necessarily perceived as a negative influence, Zutchi said that those within the Muslim world emphasize their cultural differences.
“The West is seen as materially and militarily superior and having influence, but the East sees themselves culturally and spiritually superior,” Zutchi said. “We are expressing an identity that powers come and go, but what remains is our cultural superiority.”