Letters to the Editor
—The Faculty of the Department of Religion
December 3, 2008
In response to Professor Saul Axelrod’s October 5, 2008 letter to the Faculty Herald
The Department of Religion has yet to speak out publicly about President Hart’s perceivably purposeful inaction upon the offer from the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT) of an endowment for a chair in Islamic Studies last academic year, but Professor Saul Axelrod’s letter prompts such a response especially because it does not present an accurate picture of the developments in question.
First and foremost, Axelrod’s assertion that “funding from local, private sources was accepted [by Temple]” gives the impression that funding to replace the IIIT gift to endow a chair in Islamic studies is in place. To date, only one contribution, amounting to one-fifth of the $1.5 million that IIIT offered to Temple, has been pledged toward that chair from local sources. Although we appreciate and support the Administration’s good faith efforts to raise the rest of that money, our department will not be permitted to replace the senior scholar of Islam who retired last year, Professor Mahmoud Ayoub, until such funding is secured, for which no deadline has been set. This delay causes serious harm to the integrity of our Islamic studies program and it threatens our international reputation as a leading program for the study of Islam in the United States. So, while Temple harbors “no general animosity towards Islamic Studies,” as Professor Axelrod opines, our department is left at a disadvantage in recruiting graduate students to come here for Islamic studies while that position remains unfilled.
Professor Axelrod’s information about IIIT comes from The Jewish Exponent, which is not, unfortunately, a reliable source; hence some of his claims are either unsubstantiated or simply misinformed. It is not clear, for example, that IIIT is under investigation for “supporting terror groups.” While it is not inaccurate to claim that IIIT may be under investigation per se, it is also necessary to remember that, by the time of Axelrod’s letter to the Faculty Herald, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had investigated over 200 Muslim charities after 9/11 without successfully establishing a prosecutable link of any one of them to the funding of terrorists. The most important facts from our perspective are that there have never been federal indictments against IIIT, nor has the government frozen IIIT assets. In fact, IIIT has done significant educational work with other universities (to wit, George Mason University recently accepted the very funds from IIIT that Temple wouldn’t accept) and even with the U.S. Department of State in the past few years.
It is of course important to know in advance about potential donors for the support of Islamic Studies (or any field of study, for that matter) whether their funds come from “terrorists.” In this regard, IIIT was prepared to sign a statement indicating that none of their funding came from any sources outside of their own domestic business enterprise that supports their charitable giving. Furthermore, they were aware that our department faculty would have the final say in who would fill this position, as is appropriate when funding comes from outside sources. In addition to the appointment being in Islamic studies, IIIT’s only stipulation was that the occupant of the Ismael al-Faruqi Chair (to be named after Temple’s own emeritus professor) be engaged in interreligious dialogue.
We do strongly agree with Axelrod’s assertion that “Universities are places for reasonable, even unpopular ideas. They are not places for political demonization.” That is precisely why the Department of Religion has actively supported the Jewish Studies Program’s efforts to secure funding for Israel Studies at Temple, including an endowed chair, contrary to Axelrod’s assertion that we would never consider such an appointment. (Four of the current members of the Religion faculty are affiliates in the Jewish Studies Program, while two others teach Islamic Studies.)
As for Axelrod’s assertion that “right-wing” speakers would not be extended invitations to speak at Temple, nothing could be farther from the truth. Several of our department members courteously attended sessions during the “Islamofacism” week that was sponsored on our campus last fall to increase student awareness of what the organizers consider to be the “dangers of radical Islam.” Speakers, including Rick Santorum, were neither picketed nor harassed. Instead, the Department of Religion, in cooperation with the Jewish Studies and Women’s Studies Programs, sponsored a Teach-In to combat what we perceived to be harmful distortions about Islam on the “Islamofacism Week” website.
Finally, the opinions and pressure of “outside entities” were indeed at the heart of these unfortunate developments, although our own respect for confidentiality prohibits our disclosing their identities. David Horowitz merely claimed credit for a “victory” on his website after IIIT withdrew its generous offer, and so we suppose that he could be named publicly in this regard.
The Department of Religion has for nearly 50 years been a leading proponent of interfaith understanding predicated on serious academic inquiry and mutual respect. Despite this regrettable series of events surrounding IIIT’s generous offer to Temple University, we continue to hope that we will be able to hire a senior scholar of Islamic Studies to join us in our teaching and research about the World’s Religions and in our endeavor to fulfill Temple’s mission “to create new knowledge that improves the human condition and
uplifts the human spirit.”
The Faculty of the Department of Religion