On Irrelevance

By Kiera Z, x-posted from Sonic Economics

The scene today in my Arabic literature class was frustrating. We were discussing Leila Abouzeid’s The Last Chapter, an autobiographical novel framed in Morocco’s emerging nationhood. A major theme is the interaction between Muslims who believe in sorcery/witchcraft/”mysticism” and those who do not. I suspect this existed primarily to offer some semblance of religious tension in Morocco, a country virtually 100% Muslim, to make the book more interesting. There are a few Muslims in the class; several of them began talking about Islam’s prohibition of witchcraft. One student claimed witchcraft was a cheap cop-out when life doesn’t go the way we want – if something goes wrong, blame it on magic. There’s no way to prove or disprove it, but it might make you feel less responsible for things going badly.

Naturally this statement prompted me to ask the difference between religion and witchcraft, or for that matter, a religion and a cult. When a tragedy occurs in a religious person’s life, that person can claim that it’s just part of God’s plan. It wasn’t meant to be. Similarly, success can prompt thankfulness to God. This is more or less exactly how the student in question described witchcraft. I brought up these points and got a few nods, some eye rolls, and several hands raised. Before the discussion could continue, my professor cut it off, citing limited time and irrelevance.

My question may have been too broad. The nature of religion is not completely relevant to Arabic literature, but it was certainly relevant to all of us. I’ve been thinking about this incident for the whole day, and I keep coming back to the same cliches: if not now, then when? If not here, then where? If not us, then who?

Discussions like the one that could have happened today are what a college education should be about. We should all be questioning authority, a category which religion is obviously a part of. So what if it’s not completely relevant to the course? A literature class is already pretty unstructured. Why not discuss something that people have strong, differing opinions on instead of an hour of everyone looking through their books and trying to think of something somewhat intelligent to say while not really listening to each other? There is no better area to discuss topics like the one I brought up today than in class, surrounded by people who don’t think in the same way (as opposed to at, say, SdS meetings, where we generally agree with each other and have similar worldviews). I want to learn to think, write, and discuss critically in general, not to limit myself to only what my professor deems directly relevant to Arabic literature.

For me, this is what March 4 is about. Teaching each other what we need to be talking about, getting what we can take as opposed to taking what we can get, taking charge of our own educations instead of being denied access to free discussion in the classroom – resist, reclaim, rebuild.

On an unrelated note, my cousin made a good pun today: if it’s not related to elephants, call it irrelephant. Lollercoaster.


1 Response to “On Irrelevance”

  1. 1 Chuck
    02/25/2010 at 12:53 am

    There are 1 credit classes at umd for that purpose. EDHI338x. Whole bunch of topics.

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February 2010


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