After spending a week in Storm Lake, Fulbright Scholar Dr. Ahmad Ghabin from the Galilee village of Tur'an says he feels at home with the community and its people.
"I'm enjoying every moment. I like the people here - it is a very quiet place and people are warm and kind," says Gabin. Gabin is an Israeli Muslim Arab and is a professor of Islamic art and civilzation at both the Academic Arab College for Education in Israel and al-Qasemi Academy in Baqa al-Gharbiyya, Israel.
Gabin says the Arab population is the minority in Israel. Gabin is visiting BVU as a traveling scholar for six weeks and hopes to give members of and hopes to give members of the community a look into the Muslim world and help them gain a better understanding of Islamic civilization, history, politics and current culture of the contemporary Muslim world. He hopes to help Storm Lakers understand the struggle between the Israeli Jews and Israeli Muslims. Ghabin will be teaching in classes as well as speaking at community outreach programs. Through classes and community events Ghabin says he also hopes to help enrich the community's understanding of relevant global issues.
Ghabin says he hopes his talks and visits will help dispel some common stereotypes other cultures may have about Muslims including one that says Muslims only want to make war with everyone who is not Muslim. Often when others think of Islam, he says they focus on Al-Qaeda group led by Osama bin Laden and the terroristic attacks on 9/11 he says. "Does Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden represent Islam?" he asks. Only a small majority, he replies. "That (stereotype) is one thing that could be changed by such meetings."
Dr. Peter Steinfeld, Religion Professor at BVU who coordinated the university's application for the Fulbright Visiting Specialists Program: Direct Access to the Muslim World, says BVU filled out an application for a visiting scholar about 2 1/2 years ago. "This has been a long process for us. (After applying) it was just waiting to find just the right one from the program," says Steinfeld. Steinfeld says he felt this would be a good experience for the BVU and Storm Lake Community to have some exposure to the Islamic culture and feels Dr. Gabin is a good match. "We don't have much access to Islam. To gain that input is what it's all about," said Steinfeld.
According to Steinfeld, Paul and Vivian McCorkle, BVU alumni, donated some money to fund BVU faculty trips. Once they found out they were going to be the host of a visiting scholar, some BVU staff decided to use some of the funds to travel to Israel this summer for a week and were able to meet with Ghabin. "It was really nice to make that connection before hand," Steinfeld says. "He invited us into his home."
Ghabin says his visit to Storm Lake through the visiting scholar program is his first. He says he found out more about the program from a friend and decided to check out the website more. "I never thought I'd be eligible," Ghabin says. "(The Direct Access to Muslim World program) fit me perfectly. The President of my college encouraged me. He did a Fulbright Scholar program too."
The next step after the application process was matching the scholar with a school.
"I had no experience. I had no idea where Iowa was. Storm Lake, BVU - what is that?" he says. Now that he's here though he says he is excited about learning about the heartland of America. However, Ghabin says he feels more at home in a small town like Storm Lake. His home has a similar population to Storm Lake and his college is also similar in size to BVU, says Steinfeld. "For me it's good to be in a small quiet place," Ghabin says.
On Tuesday, Ghabin met with a group at the Storm Lake Public Library to discuss Islam and the Modern World. He talked to attendees about the the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, a famous Islamic site and Muslim shrine. "It is very important to Muslims (religiously and culturally) everywhere," Ghabin told the attendees. He said the Dome was built over a sacred stone and is believed to be the place from where the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven during his Night Journey to heaven. The structure is one that Ghabin refers to as a "architectural masterpiece," with elaborate mosaics made with precious stones and jewels.