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Visiting Fulbright Scholar From Bangladesh
Guest Lectures at Cal State Fullerton While Studying Jewish Culture

His Father told him to “Do something that will help bring Hindus and Muslims together and promote understanding.”

December 22, 2006:: No. 107

When Kazi Nurul Islam was a senior in high school in Bangladesh, undecided on what to study, he asked his father for advice.

Born of a Muslim mother but raised by a Hindu woman after his mother died when he was an infant, Islam’s father offered this suggestion: “Do something that will help bring Hindus and Muslims together and promote understanding.”

Islam, chair of the University of Dhaka’s Department of World Religions, took his father’s advice to heart and has spent the past few decades working on building bridges between religions.

Muslim himself, Islam spent five years in the 1970s in India studying the Hindu religion and culture. He also studied Christianity and Judaism in England and Buddhism and Shinto in Japan and Korea. Today, he is a Fulbright scholar, studying Jewish culture in America. He arrived in Fullerton this month and will spend the next six months guest lecturing in comparative religion courses at Cal State Fullerton while researching Judaism and the significance and historical background of Jewish festivals.

His goal is to return to his university in Bangladesh and establish a center for Jewish-Muslim studies. He created the Department of World Religions there in 1997, 16 years after having founded a chapter of the Warm Heart Association, an interfaith organization with a mission to warm hearts through kind words.

“The entire world is facing a serious crisis today and religion is being blamed,” Islam recently told students in one of the world religion courses taught by Benjamin Hubbard, emeritus professor of comparative religion. “There are fanatics in all religions, and these fanatics are causing problems for everyone; for example, in the Middle East where Jews and Muslims — though both members of Abrahamic faiths — are unfortunately in conflict.”

World peace can be achieved through unity between the world’s religions, Islam said.

“We must respect people of other faiths and learn from them,” he said. “I hope the day will come when religious studies will be compulsory for any major. It is our dream to make our young people enlightened citizens of the world. Learning about different religions makes us true human beings.”

As technological advances make global connections possible, Islam noted, “it’s high time we got to know one another, respect one another. That will bring peace on earth and destroy mistrust.”

Hubbard, Islam’s Fulbright sponsor, added: “Religion is incredibly important in terms of global peace. Building bridges is a good sign of hope in a world of hatred.”

He said the largest religions in the world are Christianity, with 2 billion followers; Islam, with 1.3 billion; Hinduism, with 950 million; Buddhism, with 350 million; Sikhism, with 22 million; Judaism, with 14 million; and Baha’i, with 6 million.

Such diversity makes dialogue between the followers of different faiths imperative for harmony, Hubbard said.

That’s why Islam’s work is astounding, he said. “It is quite extraordinary for a Muslim scholar to want to study Judaism, and Jewish festivals in particular, in such depth. Dr. Islam wants to establish a center for Jewish-Muslim studies in Bangladesh — also an amazing goal, in light of the strained relations between Jews and Muslims. He will be a wonderful asset to our department and the university as a whole.”

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