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THE HEART OF ISLAM
4/29/2007 10:51:50 PM

Hi, Leo,

What got me interested in Islam? I came back to the Philippines with an MA in Pol. Sc. from Kansas and I needed a job! I applied at the Asian Center where there was an opening because Nur Misuari had gone underground. The opening was for someone interested in Islam and southern Philippines. Of course, I said was. I did not know anything about Islam, and only knew a few Muslims - Nur Misuari himself, Sis Desdemona (who became Nur's wife) and her sisters, and our Muslim brods -Jun and Sing Abbas and others - Mac Lanto, Musib Buat, etc. While being interviewed for the job, I decided I'd play on the issue of using religion to justify political goals in the south as a means to mobilize the masses. I got the job and so that was how it all began.

I went to Temple University and was privileged to study with two of the top three Islamicists in the US at the time, in the mid 70s (Ismail Al Faruqi and Syed Hossein Nasr - the author of that book). Islamic Studies at Temple U was in the department of religion, hence, my degree in Religion, major in Islamic Studies. My appreciation of Islam developed and grew from the courses I took with these professors. I realized that colonial literature in the Philippines gave us a skewed and erratic view of Islam. No, there was no spiritual awakening. In fact, many of my students think I am Buddhist and in many ways, I think Buddhism, as taught by the Buddha, which focussed on transformation of the self, suits my inclinations. I am not a Muslim and have no plans of converting. I was trained in the phenomenological approach to the study of religion which views all religions as the same - in terms of their being human responses to their views of the sacred and the absolute. So, I am engaged in the academic study of religion. We do not make value judgments on which religions are right or wrong or good or bad. We consider ALL religions as true - because we look at them from the eyes of the believers.

La Salle is a Christian Brothers university inspired by the mission of Jean baptiste de La Salle, founder of the order (kapatid kami ng mga la salle universities worldwide) but when we teach religion here, we may be different from La Salle Manila since we do not teach from the perspective of our own beliefs. We pursue the academic approach that puts our own religious beliefs on hold and view religion from the perspective of the believer. When my colleagues teach the Bible they use the historical-critical approach, and view the Bible in much the same way they'd view any document of antiquity, view the hostorical, social contexts in which the stories took place and even question certain points. We remind our students to avoid the "preaching mode" when writing their papers (many of them came from Catholic archdiocesan high schools and so very conservative!) and try to teach them (it is difficult, we know) to use our phenomenological approach in the hope that they would appreciate religions other than their own. Our faculty is basically of liberal bent and I have to admit, were not excited when Ratzinger was elected pope.

Sorry for the rather long and convoluted post but hope this answers your question.

Best regards.
Vivs '61



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