Article review: Rescuing Islam’s Universities

In this article, which consists of twelve pages, I have identified three major points, each of which will be elaborated separately. Initially, the author makes a distinction between classical or traditional Islamic learning institutions and modern Islamic Universities. In the second part, he talks about characteristics of the Islamic University, its curriculum and the model proposed by the OIC. The last part of the article deals with the objectives, mission and vision of the Islamic University.

The author sees the emergence of new Islamic Universities throughout the Muslim World, such as the International Islamic University of Pakistan, the International Islamic University of Malaysia, and the planned Islamic University of Niger, as a clear manifestation of the rise in the intellectual consciousness of Muslims. In this part the author tries to answer some fundamental questions, such as: what makes these new institutions different from classical learning institutions like al-Azhar University, or Islamic University of Medina? Are they going to produce the same religious scholars or will they have broader objectives? And moreover, what makes these new universities different from the western model of a university? These and other questions are later elaborated in details.

For instance, the author explains that new Islamic universities are not exclusively religious in nature; they also produce graduates in social and natural sciences, arts and engineering. Whereas what differs them from western universities is the “wide concept of knowledge”, which emphasizes the spiritual basis of education.

To the author, the concept of knowledge is the most unique feature of an Islamic University, which is later discussed under the first subtitle: What makes an Islamic University “Islamic”? He makes a clear distinction between the Islamic understanding of the concept of Ilm, and the western notion of knowledge. In explaining western understanding of knowledge, the author turns to the explanation given by Muhammad Naqib al-Attas, who claims that in the western notion of knowledge, ‘knowledge’ and ‘values’ are contained in two separate, vacuum-sealed compartments. Some characteristics of western knowledge according to al-Attas are: dualism of mind and body, focus on rationalism and empiricism, doctrine of humanism and secular ideology.

Yet when it comes to explaining on what he means by knowledge in Islam, al-Attas turns back to classical definition given by scholars such as al-Kindi, al-Farabi and al-Ghazali. Under this definition knowledge is divided into the religious science (the Quran, sunnah and so on) and the ‘rational, intellectual and philosophical sciences’ (human, natural, applied and technological sciences).

The following part which is entitled The Islamic University System of the OIC, deals with the curriculum of some Islamic Universities established as part of the OIC program. For instance, the author brings the case of the International Islamic University of Malaysia, where ‘religious’ and ‘rational’ disciplines are well integrated. For example, the IIUM has two main faculties among others: law and economics, where Islamic law and Islamic economics is taught along with the western law and western economics. This is part of the objectives carried by these new Islamic universities, the author states. One of the objectives of the IIUM is to ‘Revitalize the Islamic concept of learning which considers the seeking of knowledge as an act of worship’. This is quite a challenge for Islamic universities since the pursuit of knowledge in our times has become so perverse, so commercialized and industrialized.

The last part of this article deals with the goals and objectives of modern Islamic Universities. On top of that, the author considers the reconstruction of Muslim civilization. He also reminds us, how classical Muslim scholars were well aware of the role of knowledge in sustaining a civilization. To them there was no such thing as religious knowledge and secular knowledge: all knowledge that promotes the goals of Islam - the ideas of tawheed and khilafa, justice and equality, understanding and brotherhood – is Islamic. In addition the author brings a bunch of hadiths which not only encourage the seeking of knowledge, but also give priority to knowledge over certain pious acts. For instance, he mentions the hadith where the Prophet said that the ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr, or spending more time in learning is better than spending more time in praying.

In short, the author sees the Islamic University as a microcosm of Muslim civilization as well as an instrument of meeting its intellectual and research needs. This institution would cover all areas of knowledge while conforming to the needs and requirements of the Muslim civilization. In addition, the author stresses his ideas on how each university could have faculties, schools, institutes and other necessary departments covering all fields of study. The author concludes his discussion with a rhetorical question, asking what would be the product of this kind of institutions. The answer is simple: it will produce a creative individual who not only understands but is also capable of synthesizing Islam to his or her personal and social needs. This, says the author, will be an individual who is not only socially responsible but also technically virtuous.

As a final point, I would say that the issue of Islamic universities as discussed in this article is a very important issue which concerns Muslim World today. It is a fact that many Muslim scholars have been writing on Islamic education, the definition and concept of knowledge in Islam, but few of them have given us a model on how Islamic education should be carried on Islamic learning institution. Ziauddin Sardar, without ignoring the fact that traditional Islamic Universities have successfully managed to produce religious scholars for ages, he believes that Muslim World today needs people qualified not only in religious studies but also in social and natural sciences. To achieve this goal, a modern Islamic University would be the best solution, where religious and social sciences are well integrated. I believe that, this kind of institutions, would gradually lead towards retrieving the lost glory of Muslim civilization.

Reviewed by: Jeton Mehmeti

Kuala Lumpur

March, 2007

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