DARBY – For the second time a little more than a week, a public body in Darby will host a special meeting to discuss a planned presentation on Islam by a longtime University of Montana professor.

The Darby School Board will hold a special board meeting Monday at 6 p.m. in the high school library to talk about a plan to host UM Professor Samir Bitar on Wednesday.

Bitar is the featured Humanities Montana speaker at the Darby Community Library’s Life-Long Learning Series on the same night.

The school district plans to have Bitar speak to high school social studies classes earlier in the day.

Last week, the library board held a special meeting about Bitar’s presentation after receiving about seven written complaints and some calls of opposition. After taking public comment, the library board voted to move forward with the presentation.

Darby School Superintendent Loyd Rennaker said some school board members have heard the same type of complaints and decided to allow the community a chance to voice its concerns or support.

Students are already required to have a permission slip signed by their parents or guardians to attend the class.

“We saw the potential for controversy so we gave parents the opportunity to make the decision for their children,” Rennaker said.

Bitar is a professor of Arabic languages and cultures at the University of Montana. A native Palestinian, Bitar moved to Montana when he was 16. He has been teaching at UM since 1999. He has a master’s degree in linguistics, teaching methods and cultural geography. Bitar has trained members of the Montana National Guard in essential Arabic language and culture.

His talk at the library is titled “Perspectives on Islam.”

An informational blurb about the talk says: “Life in Muslim societies is an intersection of religious, social, cultural, and political realities. Thus, for one to develop a well-rounded understanding of Muslims, their perspectives and aspirations, one must look at all the dimensions of Muslim life.”

Bitar uses literature, film and other resources to familiarize audiences with the heritage of Islamic civilizations and the religion of Islam.

As the founder of UM’s Arabic Program, Bitar said he’s dedicated his life to being a lifelong learner and, more importantly, to passing on knowledge to others.

Bitar said people should come hear his presentation for information.

“First of all, our current environment in the United States at large is, in an indirect way, asking us Americans to look at this issue to become informed,” Bitar said. “We live in a democratic pluralistic system and we all have to be active in order for it to work. In order for us to be active and participate, because democracy is a process, we have to participate to preserve our way of life. In order for us to be able to do that and contribute, we have to be informed.”

Bitar said when people formulate opinions, those should be “based on real, factual data.”

“No one can simply look the other way, it affects our daily life as Americans, and I believe education is important for every society,” Bitar said. “I wish to give back to Montana, my home. We have to overcome fear with love and we do that with knowledge because knowledge is light. Only light can overcome darkness. With love, we can obtain the highest in human existence.”

“I love teaching,” he said. “I love what I do.”

Darby Community Public Library Director Wendy Campbell said Bitar will provide a unique educational opportunity.

The community program at the library begins at 6 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Partial funding for the program comes from a legislative grant from the Montana Cultural Trust and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

***

Michelle McConnaha contributed to this report.

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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