CAMDEN — A Rutgers–Camden scholar is using poetry to express his feelings about faith, love, and politics in 21st century Islamic culture.
M.A. Rafey Habib, a professor of English at Rutgers–Camden, describes those themes and others in his forthcoming book, Shades of Islam: Poems for a New Century (Kube Publishing Ltd., 2010).
“Poetry in general speaks a more powerful language,” Habib says. “It speaks to the heart, to people’s emotions. It appeals to people at a profound level.”
Shades of Islam, which features 70 poems, is Habib’s first published collection of poems. The book is available to purchase at amazon.co.uk and will be released in the United States on Sept. 1.
A resident of Cherry Hill, Habib says he decided to write the poetry as a way to portray a more accurate image of Islam and those of the Muslim faith living in the west.
“There are many misconceptions about Islam among Muslims and non-Muslims,” Habib says. “This book expresses the vision of Islam as an American Muslim, addressing faith, love, politics, and Islam in the modern world. It condemns terrorism, invites Jews and Christians as friends, is critical of Muslim complacency and myopia, probes racial and religious stereotypes, and tries to be honest in expressing the dilemmas on a path of faith.”
Habib says he hopes his poetry will contribute to alleviating those misconceptions.
One of the first poems Habib wrote, and one of the first to inspire a larger collection of writings, is titled, “To a Suicide Bomber.” In the poem, Habib says he explains that Islamic people are against terrorist acts and the taking of innocent life.
“It begins with the line, ‘you do not speak for me,’” Habib explains. “In that poem, I was trying to speak as a moderate Muslim refusing to be spoken for by extremists. We moderate Muslims do not want those people representing us.”
Habib read the poem on YouTube to send a message to the perpetrators of violence. The video can be viewed here.
After writing “To a Suicide Bomber,” Habib says he wanted to explore other themes in his poetry.
“I started writing a lot of other poetry about Islam,” Habib says. “I’ve written about the spiritual side of Islam, what it means to be a Muslim, love, and politics. Poetry has a unique way of speaking to people.”
Habib says his role as an educator makes him aware of the need to learn not only about other religions, but also about our own.
“There are many Christians, Jews, and Muslims whose knowledge of their own faith is often deficient,” he says. “I don’t exclude myself from this phenomenon of widespread ignorance. But in classes such as World Masterpieces, we try to learn at least the fundamentals of these faiths and to read a sample of the original scriptures.”
Habib says his Rutgers–Camden students are wonderfully open-minded and keen to learn about Islam.
“They are often surprised by the enormous distance between the stereotypes they have been fed and the more accurate vision of Islam they derive from sources which are genuinely informed.”
Habib is the author of five acclaimed books, including A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005).
A shortened edition of that book, Literary Criticism from Plato to Present: An Introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) is scheduled to be released this year.
He is also editing the Oxford Anthology of Literary Criticism and Theory, the Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Volume VII, and the Blackwell Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory.
Habib earned his undergraduate degree from Essex University in England and his doctorate from Oxford University in England. He teaches Literary Criticism, Islamic Literature, and Modern Literature at the Camden Campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Media Contact: Ed Moorhouse