What do you know about other cultures? Many Americans are completely unaware of the experiences and cultures of the people all around them. There are many misconceptions about minority religions in the United States, especially about Islam.
Islamic student and history major Andrew Montgomery offers a unique perspective on the American opinion of Muslims. Montgomery feels that “since September 11, 2001, America’s already low opinion of the Islamic world has deteriorated even further to a state of irrational hatred and paranoia. This opinion is truly tragic because there is so much about Islam that is positive.”
Montgomery has spent time in several foreign countries, notably Turkey, a largely Muslim country; this experience, Montgomery summarizes, “was truly humbling. American culture has adopted a stance of exceptionalism that gives us the idea our exploitation of other people around the world is somehow justified. I think that if we took the time to learn about and experience other cultures, we would see how much harm we cause on the global stage. In addition, I think this would lend itself to a more peaceful cohabitation of an increasingly smaller planet.”
Those misapprehensions, stereotypes and oftentimes racist opinions can be alleviated by educating oneself about foreign and minority cultures. As communications and new media major Katlyn Simmons puts it, “It’s better if you try to understand the world and individuals around you than to be in the dark about how the world is composed.” Scarborough Library has brought students the opportunity to do just that.
The West Virginia Library Commission, along with WVU and Wesleyan College, were granted funds to create the Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys and bring it to colleges and libraries around West Virginia. Ann Watson, dean of the library, requested to bring the shelf to Shepherd “in an effort to increase understanding of Muslim culture since it is becoming more a part of the fabric of the United States.”
Watson, along with Nancy Cowherd, assistant to the dean, set up the display in Scarborough Library directly in front of the checkout desk to attract student attention. According to Watson, “Only a small amount of students have checked out any of the books. It has not been as many as we have hoped.” There is still time to check out the display, though, since it does not have to be returned until the end of February.
The Muslim Journeys Bookshelf holds a wide array of materials related to Islam and Muslim culture. Watson related, “The collection has different focuses, ranging from ‘American Stories’ about Muslims in America to ‘Pathways of Faith,’ which is more about religion.” The other themes include “Points of View,” “Literary Reflections,” and “Connected Histories.” The materials vary between fiction, non-fiction, movies, books of art and essays.
Some of the books are better known, like “The Arabian Nights,” where the story of Aladdin comes from, but many others offer new perspectives to young scholars. “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi tells the story of a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution in the form of a graphic novel. “Rumi: Poet and Mystic” is a collection of poetry by the famous 13th century Sufi Rumi that greatly influences Muslims to this day. Information on the books on display and additional resources can be found at the Muslim Journeys website, bridgingcultures.neh.gov/muslimjourneys/.
Most of the materials on the bookshelf come from the Bridging Cultures grant, but some are from Scarborough’s own collection. Watson emphasized, “Some of the books are specifically related to women’s experiences in Muslim culture.” These books, such as G. Willow Wilson’s “The Butterfly Mosque” offer an important perspective for students of women and their rights, especially in today’s society.
All in all, the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf should be taken advantage of by more students while it is still available. As library worker and math major Christian Shimer put it, “It’s good for people to be exposed to other cultures to prevent an ethno-centric mindset.” Students will be surprised by the misconceptions and false impressions they may have had before they took a peek into another culture.