Are researchers allowed to call Muhammad a paedophile?
by Natalia Mazur
Gazeta Wyborcza, July 2, 2011
Exclusive English translation for Jihad Watch by Grzegorz Kusnierz
Does it behoove an Arabic Studies scholar to criticize Islam? A professor from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań tried, and lost his job.
Bartłomiej Grysa, PhD, has been teaching the Arabic language at Adam Mickiewicz University. His main field of interest, however, was relations between Christians and Muslims. He believes this was the reason for his being fired. His case was recently described in the “Fronda” magazine.
Grysa has been teaching the Arabic language at the university since 1998. He has been controversial with students. They wrote on the Internet:
“I have no idea what he is doing here," some wondered. "He is anti-Islamic.”
Others disagreed: “Arabic Studies is not, and should not be, a Koranic school.”
“None of us want a Koranic school, but neither an Oriana Fallaci school,” replied the first group.
The dean of the university received a letter about Grysa from the Mufti of the Polish Muslim Religious Association, Tomasz Miśkiewicz. “Students complained that Dr. Grysa offends them during his lectures. Some of them are Muslims; one student is married to a Muslim. We asked the university to investigate the case,” said the press spokesman of the association, Musa Czachorowski.
After four years as an adjunct, Professor Grysa’s contract, like those of all university scholars, could have been extended for another six years. This was, however, not done. “The Mufti’s letter had no direct influence on our employment decision,” emphasized the university’s press spokesperson, Dominika Narożna. She emailed us that “there was no extension of the employment contract due to the fact that the Neophilology Department provided the Dean’s Office with no employment request for the professor”.
The reason? A negative evaluation. Professor Paweł Siwiec, the head of the Arabic Studies Department and Grysa’s superior, in his assessment writes extensively about Grysa's book, Islam – The True Face of the Religion of Peace. Forced conversions to Islam, the stoning of converts out of Islam, and the changing of churches into mosques are described in the book. Siwiec focused on the chapter describing Muhammad’s biography: “Dr. Grysa offends the religious feelings of Muslims by calling the Prophet of Islam a murderer, an assassin, a paedophile and a robber,” he wrote, and emphasized that Grysa is formally a linguist, and that the publication is not connected to his field of study. “From the point of view of the research methodology of the humanities, a border to a scholarly critique is set by a researcher’s language” Narożna says. “Words used by scholars ought to be free from invectives, positive and negative emotions, and an affective vocabulary”.
Recently, the Arabic Studies Department quit co-operation with two other scholars who were writing about the oppression of Christians by Muslims: Professor Michael Abdalla, a founder of the Middle East Christianity Laboratory, and his Ph.D. student. Professor Abdalla was transferred from Arabic Studies to the Linguistics Department, and deprived of his lab.
“If you’re looking for people writing about the Christians of the Middle East, go to Catholic, Church run universities,” suggests Professor Siwiec. He himself has lectured about “Religious minorities in the Arab world,” but he emphasizes that culture studies are not the mainstream of the curriculum. “Arabic studies are linguistic studies. Graduates are supposed to know the language thoroughly,” he explains.
“Knowledge of Middle East Christianity is a vital part of Arabic Studies expertise,” claims Professor Emeritus Krzysztof Kościelniak, an Arabic Studies scholar from the Papal University. “An objective picture of relations between Muslims and Christians in the Middle East is a requirement for a proper dialogue. In Syria, these relations are very good, but unfortunately this is not a rule. When in 1990-2000, two million Christians were killed, Europe remained silent. Not much is done when an Egyptian Copt is killed while praying. Would we remain silent if a European extremist shot a praying Muslim? In a dialogue, both parties should have equal rights,” he emphasizes.
Kościelniak admits that talking about Christians might prove difficult for an Arabic Studies researcher: university departments try to establish co-operation with Arab countries.
Professor Emeritus Kościelniak admits that Dr. Grysa’s book is problematic, due to some parts of it: “Sources confirm that Muhammad had intercourse with a nine-year-old Aisha, but this cannot be understood from today’s perspective. Then we would also have to call Jagiełło a paedophile (a king of Poland, who won one of the biggest battles of the Middle Ages, near Grunwald), since his wife was 12 years old,” he recalls. “If it is true, however, that Dr. Grysa and other people are not allowed to work with students only because of their scholarly interests, then that is worrying. It is also not good to feel offended by every unskillful explanation of a fact.”
“No university can limit access to facts,” admits the philosopher and ethicist Professor Jacek Hołówka admits. “A scholar has a right to moderately, diplomatically and essentially provide arguments confirming his opinion that Muhammad does not deserve the respect he is being paid. A university should be a place for a free debate. Any fact, however, can be presented without judgements, derision, aggression, and epithets."
What does Dr. Grysa himself think about it? “If the Church intervened concerning any scholar, resulting in his losing his job, a great debate would ensue on the violation of the autonomy of the university. When Muslims intervene, however, we are more understanding,” Grysa noted. He expects nothing from AMU any more. “I had a certain chance to return to the university. When I was rejected and called an ideologue, driven by emotions I described the situation to a journalist. But I think that continuing the fight is pointless. I have a feeling that all the university cares about is silence. In fear of attacks by Islamic fundamentalists, reliable study of Islam is being blocked."