By Karla Schneider
Perspectives of Islam often are fueled by sensational world events, leaving a connection in people's minds between the religion and extremist behaviors. Later this month, a national conference at Ohio University will draw attention to the teachings of a Muslim leader who promoted peaceful and progressive interpretations of the religion.
Jan. 18 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sudanese teacher and Islamic reformer Mahmoud Mohamed Taha (1909-1985), a widely respected promoter of individual freedom, gender equality and democratic values throughout the Muslim world.
Taha's work is the basis for an Ohio University conference set for Jan. 17-18 and featuring addresses by Asma Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, daughter of the late teacher, and Princeton University scholar Cornel West. The conference also will include a cultural dinner organized by the university's African Student Union and an exhibit of posters and photos related to Taha and his movement.
A schedule of events it taking shape on the conference Web site.
The conference is intended to draw attention to the progressive message of Taha's movement, known in Sudan as the Republican Brotherhood.
"The contributions made by Mahmoud Mohamed Taha to women's rights and human rights cultures in Islam have not received a great deal of attention in academic or political circles," said Steve Howard, director of African Studies at Ohio University. "We hope that the appearance of Professor Cornel West, someone who has written about Taha's role as an advocate for peace and freedom under challenging circumstances, will help to increase interest in this crucial African figure of the 20th century."
In his 2004 book, "Democracy Matters," West described Taha's writings about Islamic democratization as "rich and revolutionary" and admired his view of Islam as "a holistic way of life that promotes freedom -- the overcoming of fear -- in order to pursue a loving and wise life."
The conference is made possible, in part, by a joint two-year Social Science Research Council grant awarded to Ohio University's African Studies and Southeast Asian Studies National Resource Centers for programming to draw attention to reform and progress in the contemporary Muslim world. Ohio University is one of 10 universities nationally and the only one in Ohio to receive the funding.
West's visit is co-sponsored by the Department of African American Studies and the College of Arts and Sciences. More information is available from Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org.