Adorned in simple Islamic garb, Shaykh Abdullah Nooruddeen Durkee sat stoically, cane in hand, at the back of the Greenwood Library Atrium to impart his proverbial wisdom to the students of Longwood University and community members of Farmville, many from the Islamic Center of Prince Edward County, on Wednesday, Jan. 29.
The talk, entitled “Travels in Muslim Lands,” was part of the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf Grant recently awarded to Greenwood Library by the American Library Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Included in the grant were twenty-five books, three DVDs and access to the Oxford Islamic Studies Online for a year.
“Salaam alaikum” Nooruddeen began with an Arabic greeting of peace, followed by his “high hopes” for America to soon become a Muslim land. A statement, he said, we ought not have been offended by.
With only an hour to speak, he then launched into his life story, beginning at his birth in “almost upstate” New York, just as World War II began. It was apparently after the war though that “the war began for me,” Nooruddeen said of an internal struggle for peace within himself after moving to the highly disorienting island of Manhattan.
It was on that busy island, though, that Nooruddeen’s expansive view of the world took shape, and his eventual path to Islam began through diverse interactions with great thinkers and theologians, who discussed the “ineffable figure” that is God, and how the values of good and evil differ in various societies.
“Unfortunately...today education almost does not exist in America,” Nooruddeen said in his first of many digressions, then going on to proclaim, “Very little education goes on in these walls;” a bold statement to make in a university setting. He cited that universities functioned primarily as a place of vocational study, despite having dropped out of high school and having never attended a university, himself.
Having written over 90 books, including a transliteration of the Qu’ran, and establishing three schools, Nooruddeen more than proves the point that education is not the end-all-be- all in acquiring knowledge and wisdom.
Junior Political Science major Tyler Ellis commented that Nooruddeen “...did seem to have sort of jaded views” concerning education, and that “...[university] is where you kind of get an understanding view of other people.”
Although, Ellis clarified, “I wouldn’t say he’s wrong. He got to where he wanted, and he’s not complaining...It’s right for him. He got exactly what he wanted and he seems happy with it. More power to him.”
After questioning the legitimacy of higher education, Nooruddeen questioned our collective belief in the American ideal of “the home of the free and the brave” by citing discrepancies he had with the legitimacy of the attacks on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, which prompted his discussion of cognitive dissonance or “loss of harmony” in the mind caused by two contradictory beliefs existing simultaneously.
Specifically, he called into question the actuality of a 747 hitting the Pentagon when taking into account the size of the hole and lack of titanium scrap at the site. Ellis felt the reference to 9/11 to be “unexpected,” and explained his, now growing interest in the matter.
“I thought it was interesting because I listen to conspiracy theories and he was pretty emphatic about it. I definitely need to go back and look now. It didn’t affect my opinion but it made me want to rethink and reevaluate the whole situation.”
“Where’s the freedom and democracy?” Nooruddeen questioned, referencing an America that would enter into wars with unprovoked countries, and close schools in order to avoid race mixing. The latter struck a particular chord in this audience, many of whom were residents of Prince Edward County, and Farmville, Virginia, which were centers of the civil rights movement and massive school closings in response to integration in the early 1960s.
Nooruddeen’s narrative pace was rather disjointed, but toward the end of the hour he made his way to his trip to India, the “Travels to Muslim Lands” in question, where he attended a Buddhist retreat, where he, in a peculiar turn of events, learned the ways of Islam.
On the whole, Ellis remarked that the talk was “really fascinating” and was glad he was able to experience such a “unique perspective” of someone “who now seems to identify more as a Muslim than an American.”
“Remember five things,” Noorudden urged the audience as the night came to a close: peace, justice, mercy, love and freedom. He then quoted Janis Joplin, saying “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” and took a bow.
The resources provided by the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf Grant are now available for checkout at the Greenwood Library.