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Top>Hakumon CHUO [2011 Autumn Issue]>[Open Campus]Mock lesson for everyone Interested in Chuo University

Hakumon CHUOIndex

[Open Campus]Mock lesson for everyone Interested in Chuo Universitys

Interpreting the Islamic world

Yoshimi Shimizu
Professor, Faculty of Policy Study, Chuo University

Professor Shimizu has released numerous books about Islam, including his work Getting to Know Islam (Iwanami Shinsho Junior Publishing). He developed an interest regarding Islam in regions other than Arab countries during his first visit to Brunei, an Islamic kingdom in Southeast Asia. He would later perform fieldwork in Brunei for one year. The mock lesson started with Professor Shimizu discussing such experiences.

It is important to see things for yourself

Professor Shimizu emphasized the importance of visiting local areas in order to directly confirm conditions. He illustrated his point by discussing his own personal experience of seeing things himself while conducting field work. The professor also raised the example of Sudan, a country in northern Africa where South Sudan became an independent country this July after a long civil war. "Despite Sudan meaning 'African nation,' there were mistaken reports that the civil war was a conflict between Arabs and Africans," said Professor Shimizu. "This shows why I want you to visit actual locations and confirm the facts with your own eyes."

"Now," asked the professor, "what kind of religion is Islam? Why has it spread so much throughout the world?" He offered five reasons for the spread of Islam.

Why has Islam spread throughout the world?

The first reason is that conversion to Islam from other religions is simple. Conversion to Islam is possible by professing (in Arabic) your belief of Islam in front of two or more disciples of Islam.

The second reason is that Islam contains principles of total egalitarianism. Technically, there are no clergy in Islam. Therefore, all people are equal under god. "For example," said Professor Shimizu, "the imam who leads prayer at mosques is not a necessarily a man of high position. In essence, he is simply a man who is well-versed in Islam and therefore teaches those who have not yet achieved such knowledge."

The third reason is a contractual idea which is easy to understand. Islam is known for prayers being held five times every day, for the charity of zakat, and for fasting. This contract with God is extremely strong.

"In Brunei, individuals who break the rule of fasting are fined and their names are broadcasted on the radio," explained Professor Shimizu. "Local people say that it is very embarrassing to have their name said on the radio." This story caused some laughter among the audience.

The fourth reason is the tolerance of Islamic law. Although Islam has a severe image on first glance, it is actually fairly lenient. For example, Islam teaches that a person will go to either heaven or hell on judgment day depending on whether they did more good deeds or evil deeds throughout their life. This means that Islam is a tolerant religion which forgives bad deeds providing that a person performs good deeds afterwards.

It is said that abandoning the religion is equivalent to death in the world of Islam. However, Professor Shimizu describes his own experience as follows: "Although rules are strict in Iran, there are people in Southeast Asian countries who openly admit leaving the Islamic faith and converting to other religions. I was surprised to learn that customs vary so much among different countries." Once again, the professor emphasized that visiting actual locations shows aspects which are different from common beliefs.

The fifth and final reason is the Arab spirit known as jinn. The jinn are creatures which are said to be made by Allah from smokeless flame. Professor Shimizu said that these spirits known as jinn played a major role in the spread of Islam. At this point in the lecture, he showed picture of jinn which he had gathered in Islamic countries. The jinn were represented in a variety of forms, with some appearing as vivid comic-book illustrations and others looking like nothing more that stick figures.

Pictures not exhibited due to prohibitions against idol worship

"The Koran does not state what forms are taken by the jinn," explained Professor Shimizu. "However, the idea of the jinn was beneficial in the process of spreading Islamic religion. In relation to this, pictures of the jinn are almost never exhibited because the Islamic world prohibits the worship of idols," said the professor, closing his lecture with a reference to Islamic culture.

(Student Reporter: Noboru Horitaki, 4th year student, Faculty of Letters)