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News Release

For immediate use 

June 3, 2005 -- No. 269

Turkey honors UNC professor Ernst
 with three awards for his new book

CHAPEL HILL -- Three Turkish organizations have simultaneously honored a distinguished University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill scholar for his new book attempting to explain Islam to non-Muslims, especially those who may hold misconceptions about the true nature of one of the world’s great religions.

He is Dr. Carl W. Ernst, professor of religious studies in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences and author of "Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World."

The Cenan Foundation for Education, Culture and Health honored him for "outstanding achievement in the teaching of Sufism." The Turkish Women’s Cultural Association of Istanbul recognized him with its Award for Excellence in Education. The Turkish Economic and Social Research Foundation presented him with an award bearing the foundation’s name.

Rather than regular book prizes, the honors were specially created for the first time to recognize Ernst and his work, which has drawn praise from around the world. Officials presented them recently at the Istanbul Convention Center in a ceremony marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. On the same day, the Turkish translation of the book appeared.

Six other translations are now in progress. Before long, French, Arabic, Persian, Korean, Indonesian and Malay editions will be available.

"The significance of this recognition is that by this book there will be a bridge between cultures," said Dr. F. Canguzel Zulfikar, translator of the Turkish edition. "It will help people to understand their differences.

"Although the awards are materialistically humble, they are very important to the organizations and given in gratitude," Zulfikar said. "They wish to emphasize that ‘Following Muhammad’ is building a bridge between so-called ‘clashed civilizations or cultures,’ so the book is serving for understanding, unity and peace."

The three organizations are non-profit, non-governmental societies. They organize academic conferences and lectures especially to preserve traditional Turkish Sufi culture and training. They serve Turkish society through campaigns to improve literacy, health and awareness of illegal drugs.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Americans have responded to Islam chiefly in two opposite ways, one unseemly and negative and the other positive, Ernst said.

"The negative response is based on fear and ignorance, and it ends up portraying Islam as the enemy of America," Ernst said. "But the positive response has been the recognition that there is a huge gap in our acquaintance with Muslim societies, and this realization leads to a genuine search for knowledge about the past and present realities of Islamic culture."

"Following Muhammad" is addressed to that quest for real knowledge, he said.


Note: Ernst can be reached at or (919) 962-3924.

News Services contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596