April 9, 2004 :: No. 208
Building Bridges Between Cultures
by Valerie Orleans
“We’re calling it a reverse Fulbright,”
said Ben Hubbard, chair and professor of comparative religion. “Instead
of going to different countries, we’re bringing the scholars
On April 10, 16 Muslim scholars from Afghanistan,
Pakistan, India and Bangladesh will arrive on campus to learn more
about Muslim life in Southern California. While here, they will
share insights about their countries, religious practices and beliefs
with the campus community in classes and during an open forum, “Q
& A: Islamic Scholars,” noon-1 p.m. Monday, April 12,
in the Gabrielino Room of the Titan Student Union.
“This is part of ongoing relationships the
university likes to nurture with other countries,” said Hubbard.
“Not only do we receive the benefit of learning more about
Muslim life in the four countries these scholars represent, but
they get to see, firsthand, how Muslims live in America.”
Hubbard believes this glimpse of how different religious
groups in America mingle and interact will be instructive –
particularly for those who live in areas where a free press is almost
“Many of them feel that Muslims in America
are persecuted, and while there are certainly some hate crimes,
I think they will be surprised to see how easily Muslims are able
to practice their religion here,” he said.
In addition to their visit at Cal State Fullerton,
the scholars will tour a Muslim television station and visit a mosque.
They also will participate in a breakfast meeting with a group of
rabbis and Christian ministers at Temple Beth Sholom.
In return, Hubbard and other American scholars will
travel to some of the visitors’ homelands this summer.
“I think trips like this are a modest attempt
to improve relationships between predominantly Muslim countries
and the West,” Hubbard explained. “When you think about
it, Jews and Muslims often have more in common than Muslims and
“Jews and Muslims are both monotheistic religions;
they both revere Moses; their customs – such as diet and circumcision
– are similar; and they both have a great deal of respect
for the Hebrew prophets. There is far more similarity than both
groups usually see.”
Some of these foreign scholars are attempting to
teach courses in world religions in their homelands – a development
Hubbard believes is positive in helping those in Muslim countries
better understand other religious traditions.
“With some of the interfaith groups I work
with, we have an expression, ‘Dialogue or Death.’ It
means that we can either communicate with one another and try to
work out our differences, or we can fight one another,” said
Hubbard, who is interested in developing more interfaith programs.
“I think there is a growing realization among
religious groups that we are more alike than different,” he
said. “In the ’60s, Catholics and Protestants started
meeting together, and that fostered a sense of community between
the two groups. Once that began happening, it opened up the idea
of other groups working cooperatively together. With the establishment
of the 1965 Immigration Reform Act, America saw a huge influx of
not only European Christians, but of Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus
from other parts of the world. With this influx, there was a great
deal of curiosity about other groups and, admittedly, some distrust.
By learning more about one another, we can dispel many misconceptions
and learn how to live together peaceably.
“Inviting foreign scholars to our campus is
a positive step in developing relationships.”