Awakin Calls » Amir Hussain

Amir Hussain: Professor, scholar, and changemaker
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Mar 28, 2020: Nonviolence in Islam


Read: Summary By Aryae Coopersmith  


Dr. Amir Hussain is Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he teaches courses on world religions. With a specialty in Islam, he focuses on contemporary Muslim societies in North America. In both 2008 and 2009, he was chosen by vote of Loyola Marymount University students as the Professor of the Year. Dr. Hussain has a deep commitment to his students and holds the distinction of being the only male to serve as Dean of Women at University College, University of Toronto. He is also interested in the areas of religion and music, religion and literature, religion and film, and religion and popular culture. In 2008, Dr. Hussain was appointed a fellow of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities. Dr. Hussain is an advisor for the television See full.

Dr. Amir Hussain is Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he teaches courses on world religions. With a specialty in Islam, he focuses on contemporary Muslim societies in North America. In both 2008 and 2009, he was chosen by vote of Loyola Marymount University students as the Professor of the Year.

Dr. Hussain has a deep commitment to his students and holds the distinction of being the only male to serve as Dean of Women at University College, University of Toronto. He is also interested in the areas of religion and music, religion and literature, religion and film, and religion and popular culture. In 2008, Dr. Hussain was appointed a fellow of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities.

Dr. Hussain is an advisor for the television series The Story of God with Morgan Freeman. In a National Geographic interview with Freeman, Hussain describes how “for Muslims, the Quran is God come to earth in book. So the very words of the Quran are the words of God” – just as for Christians, God’s word is really Jesus, which is God come to earth in flesh.

Hussain has elsewhere described the rich history of Muslims in America, noting that most Americans don’t know that Muslims have been here since “before this country was this country,” going back to the transatlantic slave trade. “If all you know about Islam is the 19 Muslims who took down the towers, who killed 3,000 Americans, that’s a horrible, horrible thing. But we don’t think about the millions of American-Muslims who are contributing, the 6,000 American-Muslims who are in the armed forces, who are doing things to make America this wonderful place.”

Inspired by a 2009 speech by President Barack Obama, Hussain was driven to try to change the narrative around the ways Muslims have shaped what it means to be an American. He was further compelled to action by the refrain that emerged in the midst of the 2016 election, namely (a) that Muslims are newcomers, (b) that Muslims haven’t contributed anything to America, and (c) that Muslims are trying to take over America.

Drawing from his 2016 book, Muslims and the Making of America, he reflected on the two Muslims who have had the most influence on his life: Muhammad Ali, and Atlantic Records owner Ahmet Ertegun. Hussain recalls that as a child, Muhammad Ali was the only Muslim that he really saw on TV. “You cannot say that Muhammad Ali was not an American. Only America could have produced Muhammad Ali and that’s so important there.” Referencing Atlantic Records owner, Hussain says, “You cannot understand the history of America in the twentieth century, not the history of American music, but the history of America, without looking at Atlantic records.”  Hussain also shares about structural engineer and architect, Fazlur Rahman Khan, responsible for the development of well-known Chicago skyscrapers, the Sears Tower and the John Hancock building. “We can talk about, yeah, 19 Muslims destroyed the World Trade Center and that completely changed the landscape of America. But this other Muslim made possible the construction of those tall buildings, and we don’t know him. How many of us remember Fazlur Rahman Khan?”

Dr. Hussain’s academic degrees (BSc, MA, PhD) are from the University of Toronto where he received a number of awards, including the university’s highest award for alumni service.  He is the author of numerous academic and scholarly works, He is the co-editor for the fourth edition of A Concise Introduction to World Religions, published by Oxford University Press in 2019. He is also the co-editor for the fifth editions of World Religions: Western Traditions, and World Religions: Eastern Traditions, textbooks published in 2018 by Oxford University Press.  He wrote an introduction to Islam for North Americans entitled Oil and Water: Two Faiths, One God (Kelowna: Copper House, 2006), and has published over 60 book chapters and scholarly articles about religion.

From 2011 to 2015, Amir was the editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the premier scholarly journal for the study of religion. He is on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Religion.

Join us in conversation with this gifted teacher and wise scholar!


Five Questions for Amir
What Makes You Come Alive?

I'm a teacher, it's not what I do, it's who I am. I love to teach, to share the wisdom that has been given to me by my teachers.

Pivotal turning point in your life?

Seeing the blessed Stevie Ray Vaughan open for Dire Straits at a show in Toronto, and be transformed by both what musicians could do on stage, and what that man in particular could do with a guitar. There was an energy, a luminosity coming from him. I've seen that only once more since, with Richard Thompson playing his guitar.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?

Bobby Orr (one of the greatest hockey players in the world) coming to visit patients in a hospital setting where I worked, and then mailing them all autographed photos because he hadn't brought any along.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?

To sail with Dennis Conner, perhaps the greatest living sailor in America.

One-line Message for the World?

"Our lives teach us who we are." --Salman Rushdie

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