Local libraries to host programs on Islam

For anyone interested in learning about Islam and the life of Muslims, there is no shortage of educational programs at local libraries to choose from.

With mounting concerns over Islamic militants in the Middle East, many community agencies, like libraries, are offering the opportunity for residents to educate themselves on the religion and those who practice it, beginning today in Merrimack.

Charles Kennedy, a professor emeritus at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, will present “A Short Course on Islam for Non-Muslims” at the Merrimack Public Library, 470 Daniel Webster Highway. The program will run from 7-8:30 p.m. tonight.

“The foundation of Western Civilization rests on three monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” reads a description of the program on the library website. “The interaction between and among these systems of belief continues to impact events in daily life and politics on the world stage.”

All the seats for the program have been reserved, but people who want to be placed on its waitlist can register at www.merrimacklibrary.org.

After discussing Islamic beliefs and practices, Kennedy, who holds a Ph.D. from Yale University’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, will discuss how Islam is practiced in the United States with his audience.

“I really hope they enjoy it,” Library Director Yvette Couser said. “It’s a nice opportunity when a speaker comes, regardless of the topic. They can learn something and have their questions answered.”

Kennedy, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, has taught classes on a variety of topics, including Islam and religions in America, and has published widely on the subject of the Bible and early Christian life, according to his biography.

Kennedy is a member of the New Hampshire Humanities Council’s speakers bureau, and the program in Merrimack is part of the national summer reading series theme, “Build a Better World,” for adults and children at public libraries.

“The (council) does excellent programs,” Couser said. “Anything we bring in from them is always really good. When we look at the slate of speakers, we (consider) what would be interesting to the population, our residents. When something’s in the news, how can we help them get educated on it?”

Residents like cultural and educational programs, and what they learn could lead to discussions at water coolers and dinner tables, she said.

On Wednesday, July 12, Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library will host “Ask a Muslim Anything,” beginning at 7 p.m. The library is located at 7 Forest Road.

The speaker, Robert Azzi, an Arab-American Muslim, is a photojournalist, speaker and columnist who has written on issues of identity, conflict and Islam, according to his biography. The Exeter resident has lived in Cairo, Beirut, Athens and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

According to the library, Azzi will “lead a thoughtful and reasoned discussion on Islam, and will offer the opportunity to dispel misconceptions and create better understanding.”

The following day, Thursday, July 13, Azzi will present his program at the Amherst Town Library. The program will run from 7-8:30 p.m. in the Adult Reading Room.

“This event provides a way to conversation that builds a better world through insight,” the library, located at 14 Main St., states on its website.

“Have you ever wanted to talk to a Muslim? Someone who could be your co-worker or neighbor? ‘Ask a Muslim Anything’ is an opportunity for conversation on aspects of belief, identity and practice – or whatever comes up,” the library statement continued. “Nothing is off-limits as long as it is respectfully presented.”

Registration to attend is required. People can sign up at www.amherstlibrary.org.

“I hope it encourages conversation, and that people feel they learned something new,” said Ruslyn Vear, head of reference and adult programming at the Amherst Library.

Later this month, adults and teens interested in learning about Iran, the second largest country in the Middle East, can do so at Merrimack’s library.

The library will host “Armchair Travel Series: Iran,” from 6:30-8 p.m., on Thursday, July 20.

Attendees of this “discovery tour” of the country will learn about its language, culture, capital city and historical sites, and also sample regional food and drink. Registration is required.

The program will be led by Arefe Koushki, Couser’s administrative assistant, who was born in Iran, worked as a teacher there, and attended graduate school in New Hampshire.

Previous “tours” of Russia and India were led by Merrimack library staffers from those countries. The programs draw about 50 people.

“It’s a neat opportunity to hear from someone from somewhere else,” Couser said.

People who miss Kennedy’s presentation, “A Short Course on Islam for Non-Muslims” in Merrimack this week have the opportunity to see it in Nashua next month.

Kennedy will be at the Nashua Public Library, 2 Court St., on Tuesday, Aug. 8, from 7-8:30 p.m.

According to Carol Luers Eyman, the library’s outreach and community services coordinator, Kennedy’s presentation is being held, as it was in Merrimack, in conjunction with the “Build a Better World” theme.

“We looked for speakers related to that,” she said.

Information on the event is available at www.nashualibrary.org. People who attend the event will earn a raffle ticket for adult summer reading prizes.