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David Bricker
IU Media Relations

George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Wednesday, September 17, 2003

IU hosts conference - East Meets West: Understanding the Muslim Presence in Europe and North America

Note: The news media is invited to cover this conference, although registration is required through IU Media Relations. Contact George Vlahakis at 812-855-0846 or for further information.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Bloomington will host a major conference that will address issues facing Muslims in North America and Europe and feature presentations by more than 50 of the world's leading scholars on Islam and the study of Muslim societies worldwide.

The conference, "East Meets West: Understanding the Muslim Presence in Europe and North America," is the 32nd annual meeting of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists. IU's College of Arts and Sciences will co-sponsor the event, which is being hosted by the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures and the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Program on Sept. 26-28.

Last year, George Washington University and American University co-hosted the conference in Washington, D.C.

Nazif Shahrani, chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, said conference participants will explore questions about Muslim presence in the West -- past, present and future -- and bring fresh insights to the situation of Muslims in North America and Europe.

The issue of Muslim presence in Europe and America stares "at our faces daily," Shahrani said. "There is an attempt to make Islam the 'other,' something alien, foreign and exotic. What the conference will emphasize is that Muslims are here and part of the fabric of our society in the United States. We are proud of this society and respectful of all others who live in this country, enjoy the good life and contribute to the making of an even greater society."

It is estimated that there are more than 7 million adherents of Islam in the United States, including many American converts who are not of Near Eastern descent. There may be twice as many Muslims in Europe.

"On the evening news, we are frequently shown people who are dressed in turbans and long beards, looking fierce and allegedly doing terrible things," Shahrani added. "What we hope this conference will show is that those of us who are living here in America do not come anywhere near those images and pictures that are used to falsely portray and represent the essence of Islam. We are maligned on the basis of presumed activities of a few criminals."

Conference presenters will come to Bloomington from all over the world. They include scholars from IU, Harvard University, the universities of Michigan and Texas, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the University of Toronto and the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy.

The keynote address will be delivered on Sept. 27 by Dr. Ali Mazrui, director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at the State University of New York-Binghamton. His address will examine the subject, "A Marriage of Two Civilizations? The Balance Between Western Norms and Muslim Values."

Mazrui, who is also the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities at SUNY-Binghamton, is an internationally known scholar on Islam who has focused his research on Africa. He helped produce the acclaimed 1986 television series, The Africans: A Triple Heritage, which was jointly produced by the BBC, PBS and the Nigerian Television Authority. He also wrote a best-selling book by the same title. Mazrui is also the author of the recent book, The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in the African Experience (University of Chicago Press, 1998).

Among the topics that will be explored at the conference are the political and philosophic perspectives of Islam on democracy and the identity and assimilation of Muslim culture in Western societies. Shahrani said it is possible for people to maintain their Muslim identity and tradition while thriving in a larger multicultural society like the United States.

"It's true that culture, not just American culture, is the body of rules and values. It's constraining," Shahrani said. "It makes members of a society who belong to a particular cultural tradition conform. But what is also of great value in the West is the value of individualism and individual contributions.

"The assumption that people came to America and melted away into something presumed to be American was the kind of thing that sociologists were thinking about during the 1950s and 1960s. The absurdity of that assumption is rather apparent," Shahrani added. "There is something that brings all of us together in America. It's the democratic values and institutions of this country that we all admire and uphold. But it is also the tolerance of cultural differences and diversity of cultural life in America that we also appreciate and wish to protect."

The conference will also include sessions about Muslim women in American life, Islam in a multi-faith society, Muslim intellectualism, Islamic politics and integrating Islam within anti-racist and social justice movements. In addition to academics, conference organizers also expect that activists and policymakers seeking to better the lives of Muslims in the West will be in attendance.

Registration is required in order to attend the conference. The cost is $55 for AMSS members, $65 for non-members and $25 for students. Tickets for the banquet where Mazrui is speaking cost $35 for non-members and $25 for students. Complete information is available at the AMSS Web site at

For more information, contact Layla Sein, AMSS conference coordinator, at or Martha Al-hieh, AMSS local organizing committee member, at