Steven Scholl will give a series of talks on Islam at the Havurah Shirh Hadash starting Jan. 15.




Scholl began studying Islam in 1978, initially drawn in by the poetry of Persian mystics like Rumi and Hafiz. Since 9/11 has been sharing his insights on Islam to Americans through lectures at churches, synagogues, and universities. Last Spring he presented a four-week course on Islam 101 at the Unitarian Center and Temple Emek Shalom in Ashland. Attendance was strong and he is once again offering the class, this time at the invitation of Rabbi David Zaslow and the Havurah Shirh Hadash Jewish Renewal synagogue in Ashland. A Tuesday evening class will begin January 15 and a Thursday afternoon class will start on January 17. The classes are open to all.




"Even though Islam is in the daily news, most of us remain unsure as to what the Qur'an teaches, know little of the biography of the prophet Muhammad, and are unclear about differences between Sunnis, Shi'is, Sufis, Wahhabis, Salafis, and other designations for Muslims that appear in the media" Scholl said. "This four-week course provides a straightforward introduction to Muhammad, the Qur'an, and the Islamic tradition for those seeking accurate information about the faith of 1.3 billion fellow inhabitants of the global village."




The idea for the course came after Scholl attended a lecture on Islam in 2006.




"The content was great but I was struck by the fact that even a good lecture is really just an extended sound bite," he said. "I thought that a short course with the feel of a university level lecture and discussion format would help provide some solid information about the history and beliefs of Islam."




Americans believe in religion, but know very little about it, Scholl said. In his new book "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know &

And Doesn't" Stephen Prothereo, chair of the religion department at Boston University, describes the state of religious knowledge by Americans. Although poll after poll shows that Americans are among the most religious people on the face of the earth, Prothero's study of what Americans actually know about religion indicates that fewer than half of us know that Genesis is the first book of the Bible, nearly 75 percent of adults wrongly believe that the Bible teaches that "God helps those who help themselves," and knowledge of Islam, the religion of the vast majority in areas our country is currently engaged in a war, is nearly non-existent.




"I think it important for Americans to know the basics of Islam as Muslim culture has had a profound impact on Western civilization and to better understand the daily news and the actions of our nation in the Middle East," Scholl said.




Scholl did his undergraduate studies in History of Religions and specialized in Islamic thought and history at the graduate level. He lived for a year in Egypt and travels annually to the Middle East, leading tours to Morocco. Cost of the course is $40.