I’ve been thinking about the comment about the Imam’s comments on 911 and I realized that the poster’s objection relates directly to the larger theme of my post. In fact the imam in question is a Sufi — and, as the two articles I cited make clear, the Sufis have themselves been the target of attacks from the very kind of Islamic extremists who killed so many at the World Trade Center, and against whom we are now fighting in Afghanistan. Now that fact that he is a Sufi does not mean we all will necessarily agree with him, and it is perfectly fair to review his record, his statements, his beliefs. But the fact that he is a Sufi, and that extremist Muslims are extremely anti-Sufi is precisely the sort of deeper knowledge we need, and students need.
Think of it this way, if someone had doubts about the beliefs of a Catholic and he had devoted his life to following the way of St. Francis, we would have a set of expectations of who he might be — and that he would probably not be a fan of Torquemada. Similarly, if we were wondering about the beliefs of a Jewish leader and he was a devoted reader of Martin Buber who had marched with Martin Luther King, we would surely guess that he would be in favor of dialogue with Palestinians. But here we have an imam whose form of Islam is exactly as distinct as is being a Franciscan or a Jewish Liberal, and yet that is invisible when he is criticized. It seems to me we need to educate ourselves, so that we are not speaking about Islam, but Islams, and so that we know which is which — that is our assignment, and one we can very meaningfully share with our students.