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Muslimkidsmatter- Koran by Heart-documentary about Muslim Child Prodigies

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One of Islam’s most revered traditions, Koran recitation reaches its pinnacle at the world’s preeminent recitation competition in Cairo, where Muslim children come from across the globe to perform in front of a panel of prominent judges. Contestants as young as seven are ranked against kids more than twice their age for both their comprehensive memorization of the 600-page text as well as their improvised melodies. A diverse spectrum of Muslims competes for top prize: Ten-year-old Senegalese entrant Djamil navigates the competition alone while his community anxiously awaits his results; Rifdha, from a small island in the Maldives, enters as one of the competition’s few female participants; and Nabiollah, from rural Tajikistan, mesmerizes judges with his angelic voice in spite of not speaking Arabic.

Following these talented youngsters from their intense preparation regimes through the rigorous rounds of the tournament, director Greg Barker creates both an inspirational competition film and an engaging survey of the unique experiences of Muslim children throughout the world, using the cultural crossroads of the international competition to examine the issues facing of the next generation of Muslims.

–Ian Hollander

World Documentary Competition

[KORAN] | 2011 | 77 min | Feature Documentary

Directed by: Greg Barker
(Koran By Heart)
In Arabic, Dhivehi, English, Tajik, Wolof, Buck with English subtitles.
U.K., USA

Interview with Greg Barker

Review on Salon:
And here’s the second thing about “Koran by Heart”: It’s a colorful and dramatic saga of human competition, with a fascinating setting and utterly irresistible pint-sized heroes, but it doesn’t soft-pedal the things about 21st-century Islam that are likely to make at least some Western viewers uncomfortable. One of our stars is a 10-year-old kid from Tajikistan named Nabiollah, an angelic, big-eyed moppet who can recite the entire Quran from memory in an astonishingly pure boyish soprano, with remarkable command of melody and intonation. He’s like the Justin Bieber of Quran recitation, and judges at the Cairo event seize on him as an amazing gift from Allah. But memorizing the Quran (in Arabic, which he does not otherwise speak or read) at a rural madrassa has nearly been Nabiollah’s entire education; he is functionally illiterate in Tajik, his own language.

You can’t say that about Rifdha, also 10, a cuddly, sparkling child from the Maldives (an archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean) who seems younger than her age but is something close to a prodigy. She excels at Quran recitation, but it’s clear she would excel at anything she pursued. She studies advanced science and math, speaks several languages and yearns to be an undersea explorer and researcher. Her mother is fully supportive, but her father, a calm and thoughtful man …, insists that Rifdha must receive a strict Islamic education — perhaps in Yemen, rather than the relatively liberal Maldives — and become a housewife.

Perhaps most affecting of the film’s three 10-year-olds, however, is Djamil, an earnest imam’s son from an impoverished village in Senegal who travels to Cairo all by himself as a representative of an entire nation on the outer fringes of the Islamic world. Barker filmed the 2009 competition (when Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, seen in the film, was still in power), which featured 110 contestants ranging in age from 7 to about 20, including a few from Western nations: a teenage girl from Italy, a 10-year-old Australian boy.

Can wait to see it. Tell us about your Quran Hifdh/qiraat journeys.

P.S. Muslimkidsmatter will be announcing a special competition soon InshaAllah.

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Azad Ibrahim

    May 28, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    I would like to know if I can buy this documentary and if so, would be grateful for a link.

    Salaams.

    Azad (Sri Lanka)

  2. Avatar

    Bilal

    May 28, 2011 at 9:10 PM

    Do you know where i can buy this documentary from? is there a website?

    • Avatar

      Azad Ibrahim

      May 29, 2011 at 1:19 PM

      insha Allah, I think you will be able to buy this from HBO’s website (www.hbo.com and then click on ‘store’) after they screen it on 1 August.

      Azad

  3. Avatar

    MW_M

    May 28, 2011 at 9:49 PM

    Any info on showings?

  4. Avatar

    Azad Ibrahim

    May 29, 2011 at 12:42 AM

    I understand that this documentary will be aired on HBO TV on 1 August 2011 at 9.00 pm.

    Azad

  5. Avatar

    Maryam

    May 29, 2011 at 12:25 PM

    Assalaamu alaikum
    I also would like to know if there is a web link where I could purchase or watch this documentary.

  6. Avatar

    Coorled38

    May 29, 2011 at 7:32 PM

    I’m curious if anyone has bothered to ask these child prodigies whether they understand what they have memorized? Obviously one does not since he does not speak Arabic…so exactly what is the point of memorizing something that has no meaning other than it sounds melodious and keeps you busy when you might be engaged in less than meritious pursuits?

    My son was chosen as leader of mosque prayers during Ramadan when he was 13/14 simply because he had a beautiful voice and had memorized the Quran…and yet nobody questioned him about the meaning of that memorized text before asking him to lead prayers. For all they knew he was reciting words that held no meaning for him other than his culture demanded he spend copious amounts of time in the mosque…memorizing it. I, as his mother, knew exactly what he knew of it because I had long discussions with him, as well as my other children, about what they had learned while in Islamic classes. Apparently very little time was spent explaining verses because memorizing was seen as the more productive way to spend the time. And this was in an “Islamic” country. Just dont get it.

    • AnonyMouse

      AnonyMouse

      May 29, 2011 at 8:00 PM

      I see where you’re coming from, and not so long ago, I would’ve agreed – in fact, I still do (although not entirely).
      The truth is that the Qur’an SHOULD be understood as well as memorized. The reality obviously does not always adhere to that, but then, many things that should be, aren’t.
      Nonetheless, the Qur’an holds a power over every single heart that has an ounce of sincerity in it, even if the reciter and the listener cannot understand a word of it.

      It is up to us, as individuals, as memorizers of the Qur’an, as the parents of children who memorize the Qur’an, that we care as much about understanding the blessed verses and acting upon them, living by them every day of our lives, as we care about memorizing those sacred words.

      May Allah make us amongst those who both memorize and live the Qur’an, ameen.

    • Avatar

      Furhan zubairi

      May 30, 2011 at 10:09 AM

      As Salam u alaikum,

      I generally don’t comment but after reading this I felt I could add something beneficial to the conversation.
      Although it is definately better and more beneficial to read/memorize the Quran while studying it’s meanings, it’s important to realize that recitation of the Quran is an extremely meritorious act of worship in and of itslef.
      This can be seen by the numerous narrations we find in the books of ahadith regarding virtues of the Quran . For example, it is narrated that the Prophet (saw) said, “Whoever recites a letter from the Book of Allah, he will be credited with a good deed, and a good deed gets a ten-fold reward. I do not say that Alif-Lam-Mim is one letter, but Alif is a letter, Lam is a letter and Mim is a letter.”
      As one of my teachers once said it’s interesting to note that the word the Prophet (saw) chose to give as an example is a word that no one knows the meaning of except Allah (swt).
      Reciting the Quran and reflecting/pondering over its meanings are two seperate acts of worship. We shouldn’t look at reciting the Quran without meaning as something that is useless.

      Furhan

    • Avatar

      Umm Zakariyya

      May 30, 2011 at 3:16 PM

      Perhaps its because memorising the entire Quran can be done within a specific time framework, whereas understanding the Quran is a life long journey – there is no time than any of us can claim to fully understand the Qur’an. And perhaps that one of the tools we try to give ourselves and our children, on their life’s journey to understanding the Qur’an, is through the memorization, so that in future when they hear tafsir and lessons based on the Qu’ran, they can anchor these to the ayaat they already know. I think of understanding as the goal, and hifdh as one key to that understanding.

  7. Umm Reem

    Umm Reem

    May 30, 2011 at 1:37 AM

    Coolred,
    I completely agree with you. I think whether it is memorization or simple recitation, at a young age, should be done with meanings and explanation wherever parents can offer a brief explanation.

    When my kids were memorizing Qur’an, we always read the meanings of the new lesson and read from the tafseer. It helped built an interest for them to memorize, not to mention all the other benefits came along with it alhamdullilah. Understanding of what they are memorizing is very important.

    Nevertheless, it is one of the miracles of QUr’an that It can be memorized even by those who don’t understand Arabic, and their effort is priceless!

  8. Avatar

    Tariq Nisar Ahmed

    May 30, 2011 at 2:08 AM

    Sounds like it will be an interesting documentary. Like the popular documentaries about spelling bee competitions, etc. in the US. Sad the producers could only compare the sound of Qur’an to music, since the Speech of Allah far transcends any piece of music.

    Nevertheless masajid throughout the West should invite nonMuslims to come watch the documentary and then showcase their own local child “phenoms.” Not every city has the number of hifdh schools that Houston has, alhamdolillah, but it would be fantastic dawah in my opinion to have people hear the beauty of the Qur’an in their local communities. Well worth the cost of the DVD.

  9. Pingback: Muslimkidsmatter- Koran by Heart-documentary about Muslim Child … | Find Best Information about Islam on Internet

  10. Avatar

    Mezba (Read with Meaning)

    May 30, 2011 at 10:03 AM

    It’s still amazing to me that young kids can learn the whole Quran by heart.

  11. Avatar

    Abu Fatimah

    May 30, 2011 at 8:47 PM

    Am I the only one who is feeling somewhat negative about this documentary?

    It would be interesting if it didnt sound like propaganda. The bright girl who’s life is ruined by religion. The kid who only knows qur’an and is illiterate. How exactly is this portraying Islaam in a good light?

    Such a sinister picture is painted, yet couldnt be further from the truth. The reality of the youth who are devoted to teh qur’an is not the sinister picture that was painted here.

    Isnt it possible that the non muslims made this film as propaganda against Islaam?

    • Avatar

      Olivia

      May 31, 2011 at 5:03 PM

      I sort of have the same vibe as brother Dawud. It seems like the undertone is that children who pursue hifdh have some sort of wasted potential because of a hyper-focus of their parents on religion. It’s as if to say, “Wow, look at these prodigy kids. Too bad their parents won’t let them pursue anything else besides Islam.” I can’t knock it unless I’ve seen it, but the average case of children huffadh from the U.S. is that they pursue and excel at their secular education as well. I hope it’s a fair portrayal of huffadh everywhere and not cherrypicking cases where the children are great at hifdh but their “religious” parents stunt their intelligence or opportunities, as if to connect hifdh with zealotry or some such. I mean, if its on HBO, it has to have some sort of entertainment factor then to just showcase kids memorizing Quran. The drama has to come from somewhere, and we all know the usual Not Without My Daughter Drama that Hollywood loves.

      • Avatar

        basmah

        June 14, 2011 at 2:40 PM

        thats what i was thinking….hope its a fair potrayal

  12. Avatar

    ANMB

    June 20, 2011 at 10:50 AM

    “The method of reciting the Quran practiced today – where a student recites Quran completely multiple times over without understanding a single word – is the exact opposite of how it should actually be studied! When a Muslim student learns Arabic, he is taught the pronunciation of Arabic letter and words without the meaning such that he is not able to understand his reading. Interestingly, this way of learning a language is reserved for no other language in the world but for Quranic Arabic!”

    http://www.omeriqbal.com/a/1

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Stats not Stories: Problems with our Islamic History

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Admit it. You’re bored by Islamic History. Sure, you might say that you find it fascinating, but the likelihood is that you are far more likely to be enamoured by the idea of what Islamic history should be like rather than the history itself.

How can I justify saying this? Well, lets take any other aspect of life that you are definitely not bored by. The latest Star Wars movie perhaps, Super Bowl 50 or all 7 Harry Potter books. Anything at all. Odds are that you can remember a lot about them in vivid detail. But if you’re asked the same thing about pretty much any aspect of Islamic history, the details are likely to be nowhere near as clear or captivating.

islamic history book

Outsold by the story of a wizard kid by a factor of a Million to 1

Relax. For once, it is not your fault.

Islamic history is the poor cousin of the Islamic sciences. It can often be poorly taught, poorly understood and even more poorly preserved. The blame for this partly falls on the shoulders of the Islamic historians themselves. Apart from some notable exceptions, many Islamic history books are dreary affairs over-filled with numbers, dates and exceptionally long names of individuals who sound very similar.

history quote

It is not that Islamic history itself is boring. On the contrary, I would make the case that no other history is as palpitation inducing, full of giddy highs and dramatic – seemingly bottomless – lows. However, even the most amazing thriller can go from awe to yawn if the main focus is on the factual details rather than the story itself.

explainafilmplotbadly

If the Dark Knight was described like your average text on Islamic history

In 2007 Deborah Small at the Wharton School of Business conducted an experiment to see how people would react to a charity campaign that was presented primarily using facts and figures as compared to the same campaign presented as a story. The outcome wasn’t even close. Stories trump stats every time. Or, as Stalin would say “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” He should know. He was kind of an expert on the subject.

stalin

Hipster Stalin – now he’s taken things too far.

In fact, we don’t need to look to modern research to prove this. The Quran itself is full of stories and lessons, but short on details. How many animals made it on to the Ark? Where exactly did Khidr live? What was the name of the Pharoah that was the arch-nemesis of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)? The lack of facts and figures detracts nothing from the power of these stories and their ability to inspire and transform those hearing them.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was explicit on this point when it came to the stories of the Companions of the Cave. Allah admonishes those who debate on the exact number of those in the cave saying “Now some say they were three and the fourth one is their dog and some will say they were five and the sixth one is their dog, guessing randomly at the unseen.” It is unfortunate that we don’t heed this lesson when it comes to how we teach our own Islamic history.

stat-stories-vs-statistics

From “Made to stick” by Chip and Dan Heath

Maya Angelou said ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ If we want our Islamic history to be relevant and life-changing, we need to put away the facts and figures and bring out the monsters and legends.

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#Current Affairs

Five Courageous Ways To Respond To Anti-Muslim Hatred

MuslimMatters
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By Fatima Barkatulla

It was the day after the second Paris attack. Our local Muslim school sent parents a text-message telling them that security guards would flank the school gates the next day. Messages were flying around, complete with fuzzy CCTV footage of Muslim women who had been verbally or physically attacked in public places, in the climate of hatred and fear that seemed to hang like a cloud over us.

My sons, proudly wear traditional garments (thobe and white skullcap) when going to certain classes at the Mosque. It is the uniform for their Qur’an class. It’s of course not obligatory for them to wear it but they normally do. They were about to set out and catch a bus when a sense of dread came over me as I realised how vulnerable they looked and how so visibly ‘Muslim’. People had been fed a drip diet of negativity surrounding Islam and Muslims. The heinous crimes of some of our co-religionists, playing on 24-hour news channels had contributed to that climate. It would only take one angry person…

 

Muslim boys

 

In that moment I considered telling my sons to pop their jeans on instead, reserving their traditional garb for when they were safely inside the mosque. In that moment I was terrified at the power I wielded as a parent to influence their mindset with a word I might utter. And in that moment, I bit my tongue and decided to choose Tawakkul and empowerment and banish victimhood and fear.

There was no real danger. Most of our fellow citizens are not full of hatred. Most of them do know a Muslim well enough to know better. I believe much of the fear-mongering that goes on in Muslim circles, is manufactured and perpetuated by people continuously forwarding unconfirmed scare stories to one another (or perhaps people infiltrating our lists and groups, maliciously intending to spread panic).

In the aftermath of these attacks it’s important to continue living as you normally live day to day as much as possible and since my sons usually do wear these clothes to the mosque without issue, I didn’t want to introduce the idea of hiding being a Muslim to them.

It’s not about fanatically holding onto garments. Indeed if there is real and present danger we should take the precautions necessary and should not put our children at high risk. However, this was about the attitude we seek to instil in the next generation of Believers.

Over the Channel in France, with its aggressive secularism, it has become commonplace for many Muslims to hide their Islam. Britain’s Muslims, including my sons, are confident and very comfortable expressing our faith and culture, Alhamdulillah. This is home and we aren’t guests here. The vast majority of our compatriots are respectful towards us and, especially in the vibrant melting-pot that is London, we have grown up together, laughed, cried, learned and played together. We grew up being told to express our culture and be ourselves.

British Muslims

In the 80s racists used to abuse us for having a different skin colour – which we couldn’t hide. They would hurl insults at my mother for observing hijab. That overt racism is largely gone. But the point is this: Our parents didn’t persevere through the tough times that they faced, only for our generation to lie down as soon as we face some pressure!

By all means let us teach our children to take the normal precautions any child should. Teaching them the very powerful duas and supplications for going outside as well as the du’a when facing fear, and the du’a for resolve, were my first port of call.[1] But I refuse to instil cowardice in their hearts and will continue to teach them to hold their heads up high as Muslims in a world where their faith is misrepresented.

I see parenting as a calling. Children are the ultimate carriers of our values beyond our own short lives. Most of us still hear our mothers’ voices in our heads, giving us the occasion telling-off or reminding us to do the right thing. Most of us subconsciously ask ourselves what dad would have done. We may of course reassess some of those values, rejecting some and adapting others. However, a parent’s attitude and philosophy of life is no doubt a most powerful factor in setting a child’s direction in the world.

So how will I be teaching my children to respond to anti-Muslim hatred? What do I hope their attitude will be, growing up in 21st Century Britain?

The key messages I will be giving my children are:

First: Have faith in Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) plan. Our tradition teaches us that everything, however difficult it may be for us to understand, happens for a reason and happens by the will of God. It teaches us that through Sabr – patiently persevering upon the straight path, through hard work and prayer, we will see the fruits of our efforts.

Second: Never be afraid to be different. Some of the greatest people in history went against the grain. They were immensely unpopular and often persecuted. In the end, their unwavering, patient, perseverance for justice shone through. We have an example of that in the great messengers of God such as Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace be upon them. And in recent times we have the likes of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X – who fought injustice, were persecuted or killed for their cause, but morally triumphant as eventually the world caught up with them.

Third: Be politically engaged. Outrage at injustices around the world is natural. But how you allow that to manifest itself is pivotal. The Qur’an tells us that we must live up to being “the best people extracted for the sake of humanity.” The conditions for being amongst the best of people are that we must enjoin the good, beginning with ourselves and forbid what is wrong and have faith in God. Loving ones country means sometimes holding a mirror up to it and with wisdom, speaking truth to power.

Fourth: Be socially engaged. Contribute and give to society positively with all your heart and with all of your talents. Serve your neighbours, serve your fellow citizens. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would go the extra mile to reach out to people and fulfil their needs, to feed, to clothe, to share a burden. He never encouraged us to live in ghettos, happy with our own piety. Mixing with people, sharing, caring, giving, getting involved with the issues of society is his example and your duty.

Fifth: Seek deeper knowledge of scripture from traditional scholars who are also forward-thinking. The Qur’an has a context to it. Reading ones own interpretations into it willy nilly gives a warped understanding. We see the catastrophic effects of that in lands where injustice is being justified by ignorant Twitter and Facebook muftis interpreting revelation. Our tradition is rich, it gave birth to one of the greatest civilisations in history. Don’t be rash. Don’t be a hothead. The energy of youth needs to be tempered by the wisdom of scholars and elders. Our faith needs a generation of leaders who have depth of understanding and a wealth of wisdom in order to traverse the murky waters that may lay ahead. Be that generation.

[1] Some of the supplications can be found in du’a books and on the website: http://www.makedua.com/ . A couple of examples are:

بِسْمِ اللهِ ، تَوَكَّلْتُ عَلَى اللهِ وَلَا حَوْلَ وَلَا قُوَّةَ إِلَّا بِاللهِ

“In the name of Allah, I place my trust in Allah and there is no might nor power except with Allah.”

The Prophet ﷺ told us, when we say this, an angel will say: “you shall be defended, protected and guided”. (Abu Dawud)

And this wonderful du’a which every one of us should memorise! It is protection from facing ignorance or harm when going out! Make sure your kids have memorised it!

 

اللَّهُمَّ إني أَعُوذُ بِكَ أَنْ أَضِلَّ أَوْ أُضَلَّ ، أَوْ أَزِلَّ أَوْ أُزَلَّ ، أَوْ أَظْلِمَ أَوْ أُظْلَمَ ، أَوْ أَجْهَلَ أَوْ يُجْهَلَ عَلَيَّ

“O Allah, I seek refuge with You lest I should stray or be led astray, or slip (i.e. to commit a sin unintentionally) or be tripped, or oppress or be oppressed, or behave foolishly or be treated foolishly.” (Abu Dawud)

Fatima Barkatulla is a seminarian and award-winning Islamic lecturer. Follow her on FacebookA version of this article was published in The Times and Times Online on Saturday 9th April 2016

[1] ‘thaub’ is sometimes called a dishdasha (it is a long, dress-like garment worn by men in the Middle-East). ‘Thaub’ is the more commonly used name for it in the Muslim community.

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Education

Science Not Art: Problems with our Islamic History

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Let me introduce you to Hassan. He is an artist with an imagination that runs wild with more creativity in his little finger than most of us have in our whole lives. He spends his spare time in art galleries and exhibitions. He enjoys experimenting with different pantones to find the right shade of green for his latest artwork. So far, he’s your typical artist, except for the small fact that he’s a medical student.

Like many children of first generation immigrants, Hassan was prodded towards a stable career in healthcare rather than the decidedly less secure world of being an artist. His innate artistry is out of place in the sterile world of Medicine, but he accepts this trade-off for the security that a career in medicine brings.

The-Art-Science-of-Content-Marketing

Much like Hassan, I contend that Islamic history is art trapped in the world of sciences.

While Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t being busy leading the Rough Riders or being President, he made the same case for history in general. Every civilization and culture views history through a different lens. While the Europeans classically treated History as a category within literature and the Hindus as often indistinguishable from mythology – Muslims took an entirely different approach. When it comes to fields of Islamic studies, we tend to classify the most important as sciences. Tafsir, Ilm al hadeeth, Tajweed and Fiqh are all researched and taught with the same precision and accuracy as physics or maths. There is relatively little room for artistic license or experimentation.

science vs art

This is a strength especially when it comes to the studies that make up the bedrock of the faith and are used to decide the rules and regulations that govern it. However, problems arise when subjects that don’t naturally fit into the scientific category are reclassified as such. One such example is Islamic history. Our history has often been subjected to the same rigorous standards as those applied to other Islamic sciences. Anything that doesn’t meet the highest standards of verification and authentication can potentially be downplayed or treated as suspect.

This view of history was pioneered by none other than the father of historiography Ibn Khaldun, who was frustrated by the “uncritical acceptance of historical data.” It comes as no surprise to find out that Ibn Khaldun was a jurist before he found fame in later life as a historian. However, history is not merely data to be proven or interpreted in a narrow set of ways. History is the art of putting together bits of information from the past and weaving together a narrative that gives us an insight into the motivations and actions of those that preceded us.

quiz art vs science

Translation: Artists tend to see boats first, scientists tend to see arches.

For instance, History as science will tell us that the Moghul Empire finally collapsed due to a range of socio-economic factors afflicting the corrupt Moghul state combined with the overwhelming military superiority of the British. While that may technically be accurate, History as art would explain the fall as a perfect storm of threats compounded by the tragic but unexpected outcome of an aging Emperor’s affections for his ambitious and treacherous young wife Zeenat Mahal. The former view is based on empirical evidence but wholly uninspiring and devoid of the human touch, while the latter is pieced together based on some facts, some extrapolations and based on the characters of the personalities involved.

zeenat mahal

Worth sinking an Empire over?

Skeptics from the scientific school of thought will read the above and fear that this is a call to legitimise superstition and fairytales. It is not. The reality is that the majority of our history, or any history for that matter, will fail to pass the benchmarks that we must necessarily use for our sciences. The result of this is that there are swathes of our history that are simply looked upon as second class and therefore not prominent.

Maria Konnikova argued the same point cogently in Scientific American. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how we see and classify Islamic history. Islamic historians should feel comfortable in the freedom to discuss and teach aspects of our history that may not be 100% verifiable, but that fit within the broad construct of our traditions. We need to explore and cultivate the vast fertile expanses between irrefutable evidence based facts and pure fiction. Should we do so, we will reap a rich harvest of engaged and inspired Muslims who can take lessons and inspiration from our past and use it to guide our future. That’s hopefully something that even the most dedicated scientist would find it difficult to argue against.

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