Co-founder of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures Okolo Rashid explained Wednesday how it is necessary to highlight a sophisticated West African culture in order to validate current African-American culture.
The event, which was hosted in Filene Auditorium and saw an attendance of about 15, was hosted by the Muslim student organization Al-Nur.
The presentation, “Ties That Bind: The Civil Rights Movement and the Legacy of the Timbuktu Exhibition Project,” attempted to explain how the museum’s newest exhibit — “Legacy of Timbuktu: Wonders of the Written Word” — can help restore self-respect to African Americans today.
The exhibit showcases highly developed 13th- through 19th-century manuscripts from Timbuktu, Mali.
Rashid said her museum’s exhibit is important for African-Americans, as it allows them to reclaim the human dignity the transatlantic slave trade stole from them. She argued it legitimizes the existence of a highly literate culture before the trade.
“This project’s history and culture really is the missing link,” she said. “It will restore human dignity to the African-American culture and movement.”
In a question-and-answer session, women’s studies professor Giavanna Munafo took issue with Rashid’s argument.
Munafo said that although she thinks the museum is doing important work, she was worried that some of the connections Rashid made “can be seen as a pathologizing of black people in America,” connections she though might serve to remove the burden from racist whites.
“I am probably not able to articulate it and define it in a way that it won’t look like that,” Rashid responded.
Rashid also said that the existence of high culture reestablishes the prevailing ideals that all humans are connected to a creator who would endow them with equal human rights.
Opening movies displayed the Muslim culture’s lasting contribution to the Western world, detailing its rich ethnic and cultural history and contributions.
In 2001, Rashid and her partners established the museum, located in Jackson, Miss., as part of an effort to educate neighbors about Islamic culture.
Farshad Chowdury ’09, who currently serves as the co-president of Al-Nur, praised the unique nature of the museum Rashid founded. It is the first museum dedicated solely to the Muslim culture in United States, she said.