The Emir-Stein Center is an initiative committed to the promotion of empathy and understanding through cultural and religious literacy. Ignorance breeds hate, and hate breeds violence. Our objective is to dispel ignorance through educational productions and publications that rekindle the spirit of our shared humanity. It is our sincere hope that this endeavor will strengthen the bonds of the Abrahamic family of faiths in our mutual pursuit of peace and the common good.
Our mission has three core objectives:
1. Refute extremism (in all its forms).
2. Confute the misinformation on Islam and Muslims.
3. Dispel ignorance through education.
A vital strand in the tapestry of Western countries for centuries, Muslims have been part of the American narrative from the very start. A famous painting hanging in the Rotunda of America’s Capital building depicts the Spanish explorer De Soto’s discovery of the Mississippi in 1541. The artist William Henry Powell claimed to base his portrait on an accurate historical account. In the picture’s background, we discover a Muslim hidden in plain sight.
Five hundred years later, too many Americans believe Islam to be an alien faith to the United States, and, in increasingly troubling numbers, they decry the presence of Muslims among them. In a recent study published by the Guardian, Muslim crimes especially involving terror received 357 percent more coverage than those committed by Christians or people of other faiths. This has resulted in a type of demonization of an entire community for the sins of a statistically insignificant minority.
While some Muslim organizations have attempted to address the problem, often the responses do not take into consideration the audience needed to hear them. Responding to attacks on Islam remains a central obligation of scholars and advanced students of knowledge. But those responses demand both rigor and nuance as well as an awareness of time and place, and of people and their sensibilities.
The Emir-Stein Center aims to span a yawning gap between the Muslim community and the broader American people who have imbibed too many false narratives, misconceptions, and downright lies about Islam, Muslims, and their place in America. The name of the Center itself sends a message of urgency and hope. On the one hand, Emir draws from the great scholar and noble Algerian warrior Emir Abdelkader El Djezairi, who saved thousands of Christians in Syria from mob violence during the Druze riots of 1860. On the other, Stein comes from the brilliant German philosopher Edith Stein, who saw early the dangers of the Nazis and their hate speech against minorities, warning the Pope about the consequences of not denouncing such bigotry at the outset. She lost her life despite being cloistered in a Carmelite monastery in Belgium and was incinerated in Auschwitz in 1942.
These two figures’ stories represent the two sides of the crisis: how one must act and what happens when we don’t act quick enough. Arguably, if the Nazis had no other crime than taking away the life of one of Europe’s most brilliant intellectuals in the prime of her life, it would be enough to condemn them. Seventy-five years later, creeping villainy once again grows in our midst. The philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard said,
What is dangerous about the creeping villainy is that it takes considerable imagination and considerable dialectical abilities to be able to detect it at the moment and see what it is. Well, neither of these features [imagination or dialectical ability] are prominent in most people—and so the villainy creeps forward just a little bit each day, unnoticed.
If pro-active steps are not taken to address the crisis in an informed, enlightened, and positive approach, the horrors of the past may well revisit us.
The Emir-Stein Center aims to take seriously the hadith of the Prophet, God’s peace and blessings upon him, “This religion will be carried by upright people in every generation. They will do three things: refute the extremists, confute the falsifiers, and correct the misunderstandings of the ignorant.”
We see three target audiences: those susceptible to extremists narratives among misguided Muslims; those already ill-informed due to a heftily funded and effectively organized anti-Muslim movement, almost all of whom are affiliated with one another; and finally, poorly educated Muslims who have grave misconceptions about the higher objectives of Islam due to a literal minded approach to religion that takes in neither the time, place, or context of modern Muslims.
Hence, our goals involve the following action items: