Tar Heel Qur’an

For the past few years, incoming freshmen at the University of North Carolina have been assigned summer reading on subjects like the Vietnam War and Civil War re-enactments. This year, in anticipation of the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, university officials assigned something that they thought would help students understand the events of the day: excerpts from the Qur'an. Specifically, they were assigned the book APPROACHING THE QUR'AN, which translates and comments on thirty-five passages of Islam's sacred text. After reading the book, freshmen are expected to write a one-page paper and participate in groups where they'll discuss what they've read. It's possible to opt out of the assignment on religious grounds, but students must still attend discussion sessions and write an essay explaining their objections. This, to put it mildly, has sparked controversy. Joe Glover, the Family Policy Network's president, found the opt-out procedure especially objectionable. As he put it, imagine what it's like for "an 18-year-old girl . . . to bring a sheet of paper to a discussion group . . . [and defend] her most deeply held beliefs?" That's why his group has filed suit in federal court. They argue that the requirement violates the separation of church and state. And they're not alone in these concerns. The ACLU has promised to oversee the discussion groups for the same reason. For their part, university officials are confident the groups will pass muster. They insist the goals are insight and understanding, and not proselytizing or advocacy. Well, who can oppose insight and understanding? The question is whether the approach taken by UNC and its choice of books serves these purposes. If you are reading the Qur'an, selected passages at that, my answer is no. In the aftermath of September 11, there was a fear of widespread discrimination, even violence, against American Muslims. To prevent such a possible backlash, Americans were asked not to judge Islam by the actions of a few extremists. They were repeatedly told that Islam was a religion of peace, and we had much publicized interfaith services. What's happening in Chapel Hill is a continuation of this. As the CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR put it, university officials see the assigned text as a way to "counter the hate-filled rhetoric put forth by Osama bin Laden and other Islamic radicals . . ." They insist that they have a "responsibility" to "open students' eyes to the Muslim religion and culture." Tolerance and understanding are laudable goals, but they must never be a pretext for ignoring the fundamental differences between the Islamic worldview and the Western worldview. Those differences are real and constitute the basis of the war that we are in. Christians can only wish that our religion received the same benefit of the doubt that Islam is getting in Chapel Hill. Can you imagine a university course on Christianity that didn't mention the Crusades or the Inquisition? Neither can I, which makes the actions of North Carolina officials even more maddening. University officials are right. They do have a responsibility: to the truth and fairness. But their approach to the subject of Islam fulfills neither responsibility. For further information: The BreakPoint College Survival Kit is a great gift for the student in your life! It includes resources that will help him or her cultivate a Christian worldview: three study guides to HOW NOW SHALL WE LIVE? by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey; HOW TO STAY CHRISTIAN IN COLLEGE by J. Budziszewski; THE CASE FOR FAITH by Lee Strobel; and more-packaged in a useful canvas satchel! Patrik Jonsson, "Edgy first college assignment: Study the Koran," CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, 30 July 2002. Jennifer Medina, "Colleges and High Schools to Observe 9/11," THE NEW YORK TIMES, 28 July 2002. "Lawsuit Filed Vs. UNC in Federal Court," Family Policy Network press release, 22 July 2002. "University Sued over Islam Reading Assignment," CNN, 24 July 2002. Read more about the Carolina Summer Reading Program and APPROACHING THE QUR'AN. Chuck Colson calls "Questions on Everyone's Mind" by Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, "some of the best apologetics I've seen in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11."


Chuck Colson


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