Teaching about Islam at BYU

I’ve browsed through the catalogues of various Evangelical Protestant seminaries and colleges, and it’s not uncommon to find in them courses entitled something like “Introduction to Cults and False Religions.”

I’m happy to report that no such courses are taught at Brigham Young University.  Nor has any such course been taught here during the time that I’ve been either a student at BYU or on its faculty.  More fundamentally, it’s unthinkable that such a course would be taught here.

Not that there aren’t courses on the history and various denominations of Christianity, as well as on Judaism, Islam, and other world religions.

There are.

But they’re taught not merely “objectively” — which is to say, with no intent to rebut them, let alone to reveal the “sordid truth” about their history and doctrine — but, in my considerable experience with them, sympathetically.

Immediately after joining the faculty of BYU, in its Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages, I was invited to team-teach a course on Judaism and Islam.  I did it several times.  Then, when a separate course on Islam was launched, I taught it.

Most recently, I’ve been teaching courses on the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam.

And it seems that I’m going to continue to do so, alternating between teaching the Qur’an in English one semester and teaching how to read the Qur’an in Arabic the next semester.  (That was the pattern this past year; I’ve just concluded a class on the Qur’an bi al-‘arabi.)

I’m also going to begin teaching a (to me) new “Introduction to Islam” course, taking over at least once a year from one of my colleagues.

I’ve often been asked by people from beyond BYU how it feels to teach at a university where I’m required to criticize other faiths.

I wouldn’t know.

I’ve never been asked to do any such thing.  In fact, knowing BYU as well as I do, and knowing the leadership of the school at the departmental, college, and university levels, and being personally acquainted with the feelings of the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the matter, I’m absolutely certain that, were I to launch into attacks on other faiths in my courses and lectures — something for which I feel not even the slightest inclination — I would soon face the intense displeasure and disapproval of the leaders of both my church and my university.

I’m very proud of that, and grateful for it.

Posted from Park City, Utah.

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