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A “glimmer of hope” at the interface of Islam and The West

Given the current spreading xenophobia it may surprise many that despite all odds, impressive progress is being made on increasing Islam/West mutual understanding.


Culture –

The Italian Renaissance would not have existed without the contributions of Islamic scholarship — in particular, the discoveries made in the fields of mathematic theory, geometry and optics, which shaped artists’ mastery of perspective in painting.”

That’s partly the rationale Eike Schmidt, Director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, offers in introducing the Uffizi’s new exhibition, “Islamic Art and Florence From the Medici to the Twentieth Century”, which maps the long-lasting and reciprocal exchanges between the city and the Islamic world. 

The rest of his rationale: “I felt that among all possible exhibitions, this would be a particular priority. Oftentimes, there is a lack of knowledge about and comprehension of other cultures, especially Islamic culture. There are tensions that come out of the present day, on both sides.”

The exhibition and its implications were highlighted in yesterday’s The New York Times extensive feature article, “Amid An Anti-Muslim Mood, a Museum Appeals for Understanding”  

Additional key excerpts:

The Uffizi’s head of education: ” ‘ The aim is to inject an intellectual curiosity in these [visiting] children’ and help them ‘understand that there is a weapon called culture against racism, sloppiness and ignorance.’ “

And a visiting scholar: “The exhibition ‘helps Italians understand that Islam is not something attributed to primitive and illiterate people, but a great civilization that had relations with Italy. It also gives Muslims in Italy a reason to be proud, and a sense of belonging.”

Commerce –

There is also this bridge to precedents for trade and commerce: “Florence prospered [under the Medici family], thanks to the export of textiles (chiefly silk and velvet) to the Muslim world. In turn, it imported carpets, spices and raw silk as well as acquiring the finest examples of glassware, ceramics and metalwork. The cultural ties lasted through the 19th and 20th centuries.”

Fast forward to this century: Just a few years ago —  admittedly, amidst better international relations — we were given reason to hope:

“There is a vital but unseen rising force in the Islamic world — a new business-minded middle class — that is building a vibrant new Muslim economy … their distinct blending of Islam and capitalism is the key to bringing  lasing reform and defeating fundamentalism … They are the people the West can and must do business with.”

– Vali Nasr, Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advances International Studies.

Perhaps, before long that kind of optimism will prevail again.


A Modern Muslim (American) Woman –

Daisy Kahn is the Muslim peace activist and Executive Director of Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality & Equity (WISE), the national organization that aims to “empower individuals and groups who are passionate about building bridges to stand against hatred and violence”.

 At the time of her recently-published memoir, “Born With Wings: The Spiritual Journey of a Modern Muslim Woman” she observed in an interview “Talking with { Daisy Kahn} Her Muslim  Journey” :

 “We seem to be at a crossroads right now, with bleak news from the current leadership, divisiveness and polarization … Yet there’s a glimmer of hope: The media portrayal of Muslims and Islam is much more nuanced than it once was. … At the same time, many Muslims have stepped up to help change the stereotypes…

 “There will always be people who weaponiize religion to justify violence and oppression. That’s why we have created our own council to interpret the original text and no longer allow people with outdated attitudes to take the Quran away from us.”


Culture, commerce and Daisy Khan — three good reasons to hope that we will make the right choice at the crossroads.