Jim Tueller, professor of history, has started a new class called History of Islam (HIST 305) in order to clear up misconceptions about the religion and attract students to the history minor.
One primary purpose of the class is to correct what Tueller called the “poor” western view of seeing Muslims as extremists. He wants to show how the religion teaches wholesome principals with a rich history and culture as well as teach the students some Arabic so they can better understand the Quran, the scripture of Islam.
“Any good history class starts with where students are,” said Tueller. His approach to the class assumes students associate Muslims with terrorists. One way he hopes to show the religion in a positive light is to point out Muslim-dominated countries that are not hubs for terrorist groups like Indonesia, which has the largest Islamic population in the world. Just as there are many sects of Christianity, he said there are different types of Islam because cultures have adopted it in their own way.
“When a student comes to an Islam class, I hope they’re willing to challenge their thinking and say, ‘Well, yeah I think Islam as terrorism: Islamic State, ISIS, etc.’ But surely no one thinks that all Muslims are terrorists though that’s an easy equation that happens.”
The other purpose for creating the class is to provide what Tueller described as a more “broad” and “appealing” way to attract students to earn a history minor under the new modular General Education program.
The class was completely full at the beginning of the semester, said Tueller. “In this next year, many classes like HIST 305 will substitute for the dropped GE 300 class. So those who started with the GE 100, GE 110 [program] can take it.”
The first half of the semester will be a survey of Islamic history, but Tueller said the second half will be more of a religious studies approach. “The first half will be a broad overview from Muhammad to today, and we’ll do that really fast so students have some vocabulary, some of the time frames. Then we’ll turn to topics that in any religious studies class you would examine – gender, authority, justice, all sorts of ideas you can focus on.”
Despite having a background in medieval Spain, Tueller said he learned a lot about the Muslim faith through study and travel. His father was a Foreign Service officer who served as a U.S. diplomat; Tueller was born in Morocco. He also speaks Arabic.
In 2014, he traveled to dominantly Muslim nations with University of Virginia students as part of Semester at Sea, a multi-country study abroad program where students learned about other cultures traveling on a “cruise ship school.” He said, “That’s when I was first asked to do a history of Islam class. They wanted someone to do it beccause a lot of the places we were going to were Islamic ports. We were going to stop in [places like] Ghana and Morocco.”
Since coming to BYU-Hawaii, he has researched the relationships between Spain and the Pacific. Though Islam isn’t prominent in most of the Pacific, Tueller said the Philippines does have a large number of Muslims, which is part of what he’s researched over the years.
“I’ve periodically taught Middle East classes, but this is the first time at BYU-Hawaii where I get a chance to really focus on Islam,” he added.
“We hope students will take on these unique perspectives to understand religious context outside their own,” he said. “Is that not one of the main aims of BYUH: to understand cultural aspects other than our own?”