Growing up in the 1980s in a distant bedroom community of Washington, D.C., my experience with people of other religions was minimal, to say the least. Everyone seemed to be Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian or possibly Catholic. The few Jewish folks I knew didn’t go to temple and I certainly didn’t know any Buddhists or Muslims.
Several years, cities and countries later, I’m glad that my worldview has expanded greatly. Even so, if you asked me to confidently rattle off more than five sentences about the world’s second-largest religion – Islam – I might start to trail off. The American Library Association and the National Endowment for Humanities got together recently and figured I wasn’t the only one who could use some enlightenment.
Throughout 2013, over 800 libraries across the nation will be exploring Islamic culture, thanks to a grant from the ALA and NEH called Muslim Journeys. We’re excited to be one of those libraries. The Main Library in Oakland will receive a “bookshelf” with more than two dozen books, some films, and a year of access to Oxford Islamic Studies Online. These materials are “intended to address the American public’s need and desire for trustworthy and accessible resources about Muslim beliefs and practices and the cultural heritage associated with Islamic civilizations,” says the NEH. In addition to these resources, we’ll be hosting programs all year long that will introduce themes of Islamic history and culture.
Our book clubs are a marvelous way to explore Islam. Black Holes, Beakers and Books discussed scientific contributions of the Arab Muslim world last Sunday, Bound Together will look at The Art of Hajj in March, the Mystery Book Discussion Group reads a novel set in Pakistan, Broken Verses, in April and Books in the Afternoon will discuss Orhan Pamuk’s Snow in November. For graphic novel fans, discussions will be held later this year by the Teen Department on Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Out of the Gutter will be looking at Bosnian Muslims in Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde on May 20th.
Our long-running foreign film series, International Cinema Sunday, will present several movies related to Muslim culture or by Muslim directors. First up is Le Grande Voyage, about a conservative Muslim father and his more secular son making a pilgrimage to Mecca, followed by films set in Chad, Turkey, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.
In a happy accident, the Muslim Journeys grant dovetails with another local program happening this year. Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book is the 2013 selection for the Allegheny County Library Association’s One Book, One Community programs. In it, a Muslim librarian helps rescue a sacred Jewish text. The phrase “people of the book” has been used by Jews to refer to Jewish people and the Torah. It has also been used by Muslims to refer to non-Muslim adherents of Abrahamic faiths, including Jews and Christians
Of course, Islam is not a religion solely of the Arab world, nor are all Arabs Muslim. Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim community, and many adherents of Islam live in African countries such as Egypt and Nigeria. (Kids can learn more about that in March at Passport to the World: Somalia.) That said, many Muslims speak Arabic, and the library continues to hold free Arabic classes on Sunday afternoons. Films, books, and a magazine in the Arabic language are available to check out. We also offer English translations of books that were originally written in Arabic.
We’re excited for you to journey with us throughout 2013. Look for more information about the grant, materials and programs to be posted soon at http://www.carnegielibrary.org/muslimjourneys.
Rita is a librarian with the First Floor, New & Featured Department and is coordinating CLP’s efforts for the Muslim Journeys grant.