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Qur'an Controversy

Qur'an Controversy

Michael Sells' Approaching the Qur'an was the Summer Reading Program pick for 2002. Its selection provoked protest and spawned a lawsuit from individuals worried that the University was promoting Islam and forcing religious views on students.

Book Cover, Sells, Michael. 2007. <em>Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations.</em> White Cloud Press.

Book cover. Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations. Ashland, Oregon: White Cloud Press, 2001.

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In Approaching the Qur'an, Sells, a professor of Islamic history and literature at the University of Chicago, provides translations of and commentary on thirty-six early suras, or chapters, of the Qur’an (Koran). He also offers a historical and literary background for the Qur'an.

Poster, Qur'an Postcards

Postcards to UNC Chancellor, 2002 Summer Reading Program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records, 1999-2003, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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These preprinted postcards were distributed by the Family Policy Network (FPN), a Virginia-based, socially conservative Christian organization. The group, whose chairman, Terry Moffitt, earned his undergraduate degree from UNC-CH in 1981, opposed selection of Approaching the Qur'an for the Summer Reading Program. The FPN said that the suras selected for the book create a false impression of Islam, painting it as a peaceful religion. Moffitt and another leader of the FPN  joined with three UNC freshmen in filing a federal lawsuit arguing that the book choice violated First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion. A federal judge denied the plaintiffs' request for an injunction, ruling the University was not forcing students to read the book and was not violating the First Amendment. A federal appeals court panel upheld the lower court ruling. The chancellor's office received more than 20,000 postcards from throughout the United States.

Letter, John Shelby Spong to James Moeser, September 16, 2002.

Letter, John Shelby Spong to Chancellor James Moeser, 12 September 2002, Morris Plains, N.J. Office of the Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: James Moeser Records (2000-2008), University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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John Shelby Spong is a retired bishop of the Episcopal Church and a progressive theologian who has published more than 20 books. His works call for Christianity to be open to many types of believers and warn against literal readings of the Bible, positions that have sparked criticism from some.  A native of Charlotte and 1952 graduate of UNC, Spong penned an essay, "UNC, the Qur'an and Bill O'Reilly," in which he defends his alma mater for its summer reading selection. He included a copy of the essay with his letter of support to Moeser.

Letter, Sara Akbar to James Moeser, August 13, 2002.

Letter, Sara Akbar to Chancellor James Moeser, 6 August 2002, Washington, D.C. Office of the Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: James Moeser Records (2000-2008), University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Both critics and supporters of the University's selection of Approaching the Qur'an referred to Hitler and his book Mein Kampf in arguing their points. Conservative commentator and television host Bill O'Reilly suggested that requiring students to read Approaching the Qur'an was akin to asking a UNC undergraduate to read Mein Kampf in 1941. This letter writer takes a different point of view.

Letter, James Gay to James Moeser, September 5, 2002.

Letter, James E. Gay to Chancellor James Moeser, 5 September 2002, Winston-Salem, N.C. Office of the Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: James Moeser Records (2000-2008), University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Chancellor Moeser heard from numerous alumni about the University's summer reading pick for 2002. Some vowed to immediately stop donating to UNC and to prevent their children from attending the school. Others, like this letter writer, praised the chancellor for upholding principles of academic freedom.

Link, "Allah Young Dudes" excerpt from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Video clip (link), Jon Stewart, "Allah Young Dudes," The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, accessed July 15, 2013. (4:54)

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This clip from The Daily Show With Jon Stewart from 8 October 2002 features Robert Kirkpatrick, chair of the Summer Reading program selection committee and a professor of English. This clip contains language that some may find objectionable.