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Expert on Islam, democracy to speak at Wofford College

Thursday, March 11, 2004

SPARTANBURG, SC – An expert on Islam who has been a consultant to the U.S. State Department on religion and politics in Iraq will speak at Wofford College on “Islam in Public: Constitutional Politics in Iran and Iraq” on Wednesday, March 24.

Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina, a religious studies professor at the University of Virginia, will speak at 7 p.m. in Leonard Auditorium in Wofford’s Main Building. The event is free and open to the public.

In addition to consulting for the State Department, Sachedina has worked with the World Conference of Religion and Peace in Amman, Jordan, to hold workshops for religious leaders of Iraq on democratic governance.

During his visit to Spartanburg, the Wofford faculty also will have an opportunity to engage in a unique dialogue with Sachedina, a practicing Muslim. A number of professors have read his book, “The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism” (Oxford, 2001), which argues that Muslim beliefs can be compatible with modern forms of political and religious freedom. Up to half of Wofford’s 80 faculty members are expected to participate in a campus-only seminar with Sachedina “in an effort to educate ourselves on the religious, historical and political realities of the Muslim world,” says Dr. William DeMars, chairman of Wofford’s department of government.

“Sachedina’s visit to the Upstate could hardly be more timely,” DeMars says, “with an interim constitution just signed that will allow an Iraqi government to take over in July, and a growing democracy movement in Iran. Professor Sachedina is uniquely qualified to address both the long history and the current politics of the region.”

Sachedina, who was born in Tanzania to an Indian-Muslim family and speaks seven languages fluently, has taught at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville since 1978. He earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, and bachelor’s degrees from Aligarh Muslim University in India and Ferdowsi University in Iran. He has been a visiting professor at McGill University, Ferdowsi University and the University of Jordan in Amman. He has lectured widely in East Africa, India, Pakistan, Europe and the Middle East.

Sachedina also serves as the source person for the American Bar Association on Iraqi constitutional development, especially dealing with the rights of women and minorities. He chairs the board of directors of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, which holds workshops on issues of governance in the Iranian constitution.

“His book has been translated into Persian and has begun to stir intense debate in Iran,” DeMars adds.

Sachedina’s visit to Wofford College is being co-sponsored by the department of government and the department of religion, chaired by Dr. Byron McCane.