Meet McCormick Adjunct Professor, Janaan Hashim
by Shelley Donaldson
This article was originally published on November 9, 2011 by CURE, the official blog of McCormick Theological Seminary Recruitment and Admissions.
Please tell us your name, where you are from, and what exactly it is you do at McCormick.
My name is Janaan Hashim, I was born a mile south of the Mason-Dixon line in Cumberland, Maryland but grew up just outside the Capitol in Rockville, MD. At McCormick, I try to keep students in my class awake Friday mornings by engaging them in thought-provoking analysis of the faith being studied that particular day, and when we go on our site visits to various houses of worship, I do my best to set a good example of being a respectful guest and learner. And what class would draw students out of their comfortable quarters on a Friday morning? Religious Pluralism and the Ministry.
Tell us a little bit about your family.
There’s not much to be said. My father is from Iraq, my mom is from Ohio, so I’m a Scotts-Irish Arab…reality is, if I were a horse, I’d be valuable.
As for the boring stuff, I have two older brothers and when I was young, our family included two guinea pigs, Spicey and Cutie-Pie, two rabbits, Bunny and Fredrick, and several tanks of fresh water fish. I went to public school (thus my weak geography skills), played the piano for nine years and trumpet for four, enjoyed photography tremendously in high school, was a member of 4-H and spent parts of my summer on the shores of the Atlantic at Ocean City, MD. Oh, and I was a runner doing cross-country, indoor track and spring track in middle school and high school with my mom at too many meets to count, cheering me on every step of the way… no pun intended.
You are a McCormick adjunct professor, and (besides the rumor that you make some stellar baklava), we hear you are also a lawyer. What’s that all about?
Good question. Hmmmmm, well, I had just finished meeting my goals at the high school at which I taught (journalism and desktop publishing) and was trying to determine whether I should set new goals or do something different. My husband reminded me of my interest in continuing my higher education and suggested law. Since my kids were in upper elementary school, I figured why not?
I was intrigued by the analytical thinking and reasoning skills that many lawyers carry, and thought that this was something I’d like to polish. With that, my skills as an oralist also improved, thanks to both the Socratic Method and the moot court team I was on. Through these experiences, I came to realize that when I find myself put on the spot, whether it’s the professor or a judge wanting an answer, it was either shrivel away or step-up to the challenge. Early on, I decided I would always try the latter and not worry about being wrong, looking silly, or anything like that. It was an incredible learning experience to say the least and one that has made me into a better person and thinker.
How did you come to teach at McCormick? What do you teach/will you be teaching?
God really works in strange ways…at least, strange to us. It took a trip to Barcelona, Spain to get me to McCormick – talk about taking the scenic route! I was a panelist at the 2004 Conference of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. Among other speaking engagements, I participated in a panel discussion entitled, “The Headscarf Debate and Ultra-Secularism in Democratic Societies” in which two others and I talked about our head covering experiences. Of course, with the other two democracies being France and Turkey, it was easy to make the US shine above the others in terms of religious freedom and expression while also expressing caution with the growth of Islamophobia. Afterward, Professor Cathey’s daughter approached me, with Professor Cathey and his wife by her side, we talked and exchanged contact info. That fall, Professor Cathey invited me to speak to his class that attended the Parliament, then the following year he approached me to tweak his Parliamment class so that McCormick could provide a course relating to the interfaith movement between Parliament events given the pluralistic city we live it.
Bob and I met, we discussed a few avenues for the course, and then came up with the current model that was based on a course I took in law school. The course, Religious Pluralism and the Ministry was born, approved by the administration and has earned a steady spot in the fall as an elective.
The other course that I will also team-teach with Professor Cathey is Arab Reawakening which will be offered for the first time this spring. It will be really interesting because we will look at Arab Christian and Arab Muslim immigrants who moved to Chicago from six specific Middle Eastern countries over the past 100 or so years, the impact they have had on the community and its impact on them, and then what kind of impact that may have had on current life in the Middle East all within the context of diaspora in the Bible and Quran. Cool, eh?
Personally, I think it’s pretty important that we have you as a professor. You’re a practicing Muslim, and that’s something really great that you bring to the table for students to learn from and to engage with. Why do you think it is important that you are part of the McCormick community? What role do you see yourself playing (besides the obvious professor role)?
This is a great question. Without a doubt, if I were to learn about, say, Judaism, I would be smart to go to an observing Jew or even a Rabbi, ask my questions and learn from them. Similarly, a smart school would do the same if it chooses to offer a course that involves Islam: it would pull in someone who not only knows the faith, but feels it, breaths it, lives it. That makes all the difference in teaching students because it brings in passion and brightens an otherwise dry topic.
The events of 9/11 propelled me into the interfaith world and, through it, I’ve realized that the only way we can undermine the nay-sayers out there who are convincing the world that faith is part of the world’s problem, is to step up to the plate and say, “No, faith is part of the solution.” The basis of this is simple. I’ve found through my interfaith work, especially with the CPWR, that no faith calls for the annihilation of the other, no faith calls for starving the other, no faith calls for hate and violence toward the other. I hope to bring that into my classroom and help my students see the beautiful world beyond the circle of their own faith.
In terms of role, I guess there’s a bit of helping the student realize his/her own stereotypes or prejudices of a person who doesn’t dress like them and helping the student overcome these preconceptions through my role as an educator. It’s pretty fair to say that most of my students have had little contact with Islam, Muslim women, or an American Muslim woman. I’ve noticed that over the course of the semester, the student shifts from seeing me as “the professor who wears the hijab” to “the prof who teaches the Religious Pluralism class.” In essence, they, themselves, move beyond defining my scope or essence, in their view, by what they see on the exterior toward defining my scope or essence with what is deeper through what they see in class, experience on the road, learn from in debriefings after site visits, etc.
To me, the reality is that it’s a pluralistic world out there, especially in the US, and more so in Chicago. The sooner seminarians can enlarge their comfort zone such that it includes “the other,” the better equipped they will be as religious leaders in their community. I hope that my presence as a member of the MTS community helps with that process and that students years from now will say, “I had this professor who was Muslim, and I learned that when you go to a mosque, expect to see the wall lined with shelves filled with Qurans in the prayer area, or when a Sikh greets you with his hands clasped together, the best response is to reciprocate with the same gesture, or when you go to meditation at a Buddhist temple, expect to sit for a long time.” So long as I’m making this a part of my students’ learning curve, then I can sleep well at night knowing that our future is a bright one.
You mentioned your involvement with the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Can you speak to that a bit?
I was first exposed to the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) in 2004 when I was invited to speak on a couple of panels at the Barcelona Parliament event. I then stayed connected by helping with the programming of the 2009 Parliament event in the context of finding highly qualified Muslim speakers to talk on a variety of relevant and interesting issues. In 2010, I was privileged to join their Board of Trustees. I currently sit on the HR committee and I also served on the Site Selection Task Force Committee to determine which bid city would host the next Parliament Event in 2014. Working with the CPWR staff, Dirk Ficca, the Executive Director (and a MTS grad!) and other trustees has been a tremendous experience and wonderful gift.
At the beginning of our reading week, you gave a lecture on the shariah at LSTC, and I hear you get a lot of requests for speaking engagements. What kinds of things do you get asked to speak about? Which one was your favorite to give?
Most of my talks involve Islam one way or the other. Typically they address Islamophobia, eg. religious freedom in the US, the hijab, rising hate toward Muslims both at the personal level and within a legal context; women’s issues ranging from my work as a criminal defense attorney to Muslim women’s involvement in society and women’s rights in Islam; my work with Radio Islam and religion in the media; and now, as you mentioned, Shariah since it is becoming a political issue and it seems that politicians and their constituencies, including many Muslims, do not know what Shariah really is. I really love talking about issues relating to Islam, it really lights the fire in my belly! I love informing and educating folks and seeing the light above their heads turn on as well as exploring issues with scholars and seeing my own light shine a bit brighter.
I know you’ve traveled to study Arabic. Where all have you gone and how’s that going?
I have studied classical Arabic for the past three summers in Amman, Jordan at Qasid Institute. It’s a fabulous program and I hope to ultimately complete its five levels. Until I found this program, learning Arabic was a great challenge and I became increasingly frustrated with the fact that, to know my faith, I have to rely on someone else’s translations, their proficiency (or lack thereof) in Arabic and English, and whatever social and personal influences they may carry when determining what English word properly translates the corresponding Arabic word. With this handicap, libraries upon libraries filled with thousands of classical works by brilliant minds – both men and women – are closed to me; but once I learn the language, imagine, not only will those library doors be open, but I won’t need a library card to read the works! So, with great patience, I plow forward, finding myself closer to my faith as I hear and better understand what I’m saying and reading.
Honestly, you work with Bob Cathey. How great is it to get to work with him?
I couldn’t have a better teacher to be by my side. He has terrific patience with me, introducing me to various aspects of life in academia and the pace with which it operates. In class, he gives me full freedom as an equal when it comes down to everything from grading to in-class analyses and discussion of students’ writings. He has been very supportive of my interest in entering academia and provided many great ideas. MTS is blessed to have him on board.
What is the one thing you hope your students get to walk away with when they are done with your class?
Other than my baklava? Wow, hard to beat that. Seriously, though, I hope they feel that their horizons have broadened, as cheesy as that sounds. I really want my students to leave the semester saying, “I feel that I not only learned a lot, but I’m a better person now because 1) of what I learned, and 2) how I’m going to use that knowledge-base and gift that I’ve been given.”
What’s on your playlist right now?
Nothing. Sorry, I can’t concentrate and listen to music at the same time. You? What’s on your playlist? (Um, I’m still listening to the Yusaf Islam CD you gave me!).
The food you hate the most?
Ugh, my mom’s split pea soup. It’s the worst thing I ever tasted (and Mom knows this reality)! Thank GOD she hasn’t made this during my adult life – the memory from 35 years ago is still that painful!
If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, right now, who would it be and why (and you can’t say the Prophet!)?
Khawla bint Tha’laba.
Here’s the context: Back in the day, one way in which divorce was possible in Arab culture was through zihar, a specific expression that reduced the wife to the status the the husband’s mother’s backside, meaning the wife was completely devoid of sensual attraction. Under Arab custom, zihar was irrevocable and thus, it became prohibited for the husband to touch his wife, and yet she was not free of the marital bond. It’s unknown what made Khawla’s husband, Aws ibn Samit, reject Khawla with this vulgar expression, but when it happened, she was stuck without any ability to override such norms and customs. So she decided to take her concerns to a higher power – to God.
When Khawla approached the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) to complain of the injustice fallen upon her, she left dissatisfied because, as the Prophet explained, unless God revealed a new ruling, he was without authority to change existing custom; the change had to be through devine revelation, not the Prophet’s own decision. The Prophet received no revelation on the issue, and thus, Khawla left disappointed, but not without hope.
Convinced that the custom was unjust, she continued to complain to God, and waited near His messenger. The answer came in the first two verses of chapter 58:
“God has heard the words of she who disputes with you regarding her husband and made her complaint to God. God hears your conversation. Verily, God is all-Hearing, all-Seeing.
“Those of you who shun their wives by zihar – they are not their mothers. Their mothers are only those women who gave birth to them. Indeed they utter words that are unjust and false; but God is absolving of sins, all-forgiving.”
With these verses, God openly confirmed what Khawla knew all along: that what her husband had done to her was unjust and needed to be prohibited by law.
Although she was an average person, like her contemporaries, she was involved in society and shaping its direction. She fought in two significant battles and by the Prophet’s side.
Many years later after the Prophet died, she stopped the Caliph Umar while he was walking with another and started advising him. She was an old woman, and as she was talking, the companion interrupted her, saying she was talking for too long, asking whether she knew with whom she is talking, and then saying that she was talking to the caliph. Then Umar said to his companion, “Let her talk. Do you know her? This is Khawla to whom God listened from above the seven heavens, and so Umar has to listen, too.”
I’d like to meet her because of this strong character and to see what life was like in the time of the Prophet and thereafter. She had the distinction of having her complaint heard and answered by God, fought by the Prophet’s side, and honored when she was old and almost forgotten by the younger generation. I think I’d like to see her thoughts on the current state of Muslims – seeing this week an expected five million pilgrims gathering peacefully in her hometown to worship and reflect, while at the same time looking at the nation-states that claim to be based on Islamic jurisprudence. I doubt there would be enough tea for such a conversation!
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading short stories in Arabic, حكايات كليلة و دمية لطلاب اللغة العربية ,Tales from Kalila wa Dimna for Students of Arabic , To Kill A Mockingbird (it’s been about 25 years, what a great book!) and some of the books for class next semester.
What’s the most annoying sound you’ve ever heard?
A child’s cry that is not comforted …I’m not annoyed at the child, but at the caretaker for not comforting the child.
Wow, thanks for that Janaan! Well, there you have it my faithful readers. Just one more reason for McCormick to be proud of our adjunct professors!
Published with the interviewer’s and interviewee’s permission.