By Jeff Kazmierski – Copy Editor
The Islamic Studies Program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha is in its fourth year of operation, and program director Bridget Blomfield has big things planned for this year’s classes.This year will feature an appearance by hip-hop artist Brother Ali, who is a convert to Islam; a guest lecture from Palestinian writer H. M. Naqvi, author of the novel “Home Boy”; a mini-conference on Muslim women, where the focus will be on feminism and Islam; and a class trip to Jerusalem in the spring.
The planned trip to Jerusalem follows last year’s visit to Morocco, which took students and members of the community across the western African nation from the city of Fez to the nation’s capitol, Marrakesh. Along the way, they spent time in the medinas and the older cities of Morocco. The students found the people very friendly and inviting.
“The overall vibe is very welcoming,” said Muslim Student Association President Nadia al-Absy.
But it’s not just about the fun for students in the Islamic Studies Program. Academics, community relations and travel are key components to teaching about the religion.
“We have a strong academic component, and we also have a very strong outreach program to the community,” Blomfield said. “We work with local churches, masjids and mosques. A third [thing] is our strong study abroad program.”
As part of the program’s community outreach effort, Blomfield is planning on showing the film “Inside Islam,” and she hopes at least 500 people will attend.
The program’s outreach effort is assisted greatly by the Omaha Tri-Faith Initiative. This unique initiative seeks to unite the three Abrahamic religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism- by providing them with a common place to gather and worship.
“We have a lot of Muslims take the class,” Blomfield says. “They sometimes come in with interesting ideas on Islam. We’ve had Muslim students in the class from Tajikistan, [from] all over the Muslim world and that really added to the richness of our program.”
The Islamic Studies Program is an interdisciplinary program, and has course requirements in religion, history and politics.
Hamza Haqqi is a member of the Muslim Students’ Association and his family plays a pivotal role in the project.
“Omaha is the first place [in America] to have a Tri-Faith Initiative,” Haqqi said. “With Tri-Faith, you see other faiths celebrating together.”
Students who have been part of the program have good things to say about it.
“You get a different view of Islam,” said Nadia al-Absy, whose father is Palestinian.
For Zack Bowman, an Army veteran who spent time in the Muslim world deployed to the Diala province of Iraq, the trip to Morocco was particularly enlightening.
“Going there as a traveler is a completely different experience,” he said.
Blomfield has no plans, however, to include discussion of the proposed Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center in New York City, labeled the “Ground Zero Mosque.” The program’s focus is on Islam as a culture and religion, not on the politics of the day.
“There are a lot more people that want to get along than don’t,” Blomfield said.
For those interested in learning more about Islam, the program offers several classes, including Intro to Islam, Women in Islam, Muslims in America, Sufiism, a course called Malcolm X – the Soul of Islam and, naturally, courses in the Arabic language.
“The cool thing about Islam is that it really takes on a cultural flavor,” Blomfield said. “It’s like, every culture has rice, and they add different spices to the rice. It’s kind of like that.”
Jasmine Maharisi – News Editor
The program is in its fourth year and offers a minor in Islamic Studies.
Every year, the department offers a plethora of events to promote cultural awareness about Islam.
This year’s events include a guest appearance by hip-hop artist Brother Ali, a lecture by Palestinian author H.M. Naqvi and a mini-conference focusing on women in Islam.
Study abroad programs also make the Islamic Studies Program unique. This year, the department is planning a trip to Jerusalem.
Last year, studies studied music, religion and culture for two weeks in Morocco.