Biographical Notes on the Experts in the Film

Overview: In the interest of evaluating the sources of historical information, students can benefit from reviewing the qualifications and backgrounds of the experts they will see in the film. This optional activity may be done either as a pre-viewing or a post-viewing activity, or it may be used as a teacher resource or student informational handout.


Students should be able to:

    • identify the presenters featured in the film by name and qualification
    • evaluate the presentersí qualification to speak on the topic of Muhammad and Muslim history
    • recognize the point of view expressed by the presenters in the film footage


    1. Have students read through "Biographies of Experts," (Handout 1:4a). Either before or after viewing the film, discuss one or more of the following three pre- and post-viewing questions:
    • Pre-viewing question: What is the name, profession and title of the expert?
    • Pre-viewing question: If you were the film-maker, why would you choose these people to appear as experts in the film? What are the qualifications of each expert to talk on the subject?
    • Post-viewing question: What is the expertís relationship to and point of view on the subject of Muhammad and Islam?

2. ADAPTATION: The handout can be given on a F.Y.I. basis to students, or teachers may use the brief biographical notes for their own preparation, or it may be used on an "as-needed" basis in the event that a question about the credibility of one of the scholars comes up in discussion.


Karen Armstrong is a well-known author in the United Kingdom and the United States. She writes on the topic of world religions. Her book, Muhammad, Biography of a Prophet was published in 1991. Armstrong was born in England and became a nun at the age of 17. She attended Oxford University and received a bachelorís degree in modern literature. While at Oxford, she decided to give up the life of a nun and later wrote a book about her experiences called Through the Narrow Gate. She worked in Jerusalem, filming a TV documentary on the life of St. Paul, which led her to write books on the monotheistic faiths. In writing about the life of Muhammad, she tried to dispel various misunderstandings that Christians and Jews have about Muslims.

Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni is a professor of criminal law at DePaul University. Professor Bassiouni has a doctorate in judicial science (S.J.D.) from George Washington University. He is also president of the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul, and heads several other international organizations on criminal law and human rights. In 1992, he was appointed, as a member of the U.N., to investigate violations of human rights in the former Yugoslavia. From 1995 to 1998, he served as vice-chairperson of the U.N. committee to set up an international criminal court. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his lifelong work to establish an International Criminal Court.

Dr. Reuven Firestone is professor of Medieval Judaism and Islam at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. Dr. Firestone received his masterís degree in Hebrew literature in 1980 and became a rabbi in 1981. He completed his Ph.D at New York University in Arabic and Islamic studies. From 1987 to 1992, he taught Hebrew literature at Boston University. Professor Firestone lectures at major universities in the United States and Israel, and gives presentations at churches and synagogues throughout the US and abroad. Professor Firestone has served on the international "Voice of Peace" radio project. He has been involved in various committees dealing with Jewish-Muslim and Jewish-Arab relations in the United States.

Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr is professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University in Washington D.C. He has made important contributions to the study of Islam and Islamic Philosophy, writing books on Islamic science, philosophy, and Sufism. He studied classical religious education and Persian literature in Iran. He continued his studies at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) where he graduated with honors in physics and mathematics in 1954. At Harvard University in 1958, Dr. Nasr received a Ph.D in the history of science and philosophy with a special emphasis on Islamic science. His books on science, Islam, and Sufism have been translated into several languages. He has contributed to several encyclopedias, including the Oxford Encyclopedia of the modern world. He was honored to have a complete volume of Library of Living Philosophers dedicated to his works and thought.

Professor John O. Voll is professor of Islamic history at Georgetown University and director of the Georgetown Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. Dr. Voll received a Ph.D in History and Middle East Studies from Harvard University. He has served as president of the Middle East Studies Association and the New England Historical Association. Dr. Voll studies Muslim revival and reform movements of recent and earlier centuries. Dr. Voll and John L. Esposito recently co-authored a book called Makers of Contemporary Islam. Dr. Voll received a medal from President Husni Mubarak of Egypt for his contributions to scholarship on Islam.

Hamza Yusuf is a scholar with a strong background in traditional Islamic knowledge. He studied Arabic and other religious sciences in the Middle East and North Africa for ten years. After he returned to the United States, Yusuf received a Bachelors of Science degree in nursing. Then he went on to receive a Bachelors of Arts degree in religion at San Jose State University. Yusuf gives presentations on Islam in many countries around the world and also translates traditional Arabic texts into English. He is co-founder of the Zaytuna Institute, an organization that teaches the traditional Islamic disciplines (fields of study).

Mohamed Zakariya is an Islamic calligrapher, artist, and a master woodworker, engraver and machinist. Zakariya began his study of Islamic calligraphy with A.S. Ali Nour in Tangier and then in London in 1964. He was later invited to study calligraphy in Istanbul, Turkey. He studied with two famous Turkish calligraphers, Hasan Celebi and Ali Alparslan. He received the distinguished ijaza (diploma) in thuluth/nasih script from Mr. Celebi in 1988. He then received the ijaza from Dr. Alparslan in taíliq script in 1997. Zakariya presents workshops on Islamic calligraphy and his artwork has been shown in many galleries and museums.