Islam Special Correspondent
Moosa, Director of ‘Madrasa Discourses
the University of Notre Dame of Indiana launched an initiative called “Contending
Modernities”, a cross-cultural research and education initiative examining
the interaction among Catholic, Muslim, and other religious and secular forces
in the world. Part of this global initiative is a 3-year experimental research
project known as “Madrasa Discourses” focused on the modalities of
reconciliation between the traditional Islamic thoughts and contemporary
scientific and philosophical worldviews.
program, graduates and young theologians of madrasas, mostly from India and
Pakistan, are exposed to what they call ‘critical traditionalistic’ approaches
to the Islamic traditions, as introduced by the early madrasa curriculum in the
Indian subcontinent. The rationalistic style of scholastic engagements with
theology (Ilahiyaat) and Islamic philosophy (Kalam), which was
historically the actual task of the early madrasas of the Dars-e-Nizami
curriculum in the view of the project coordinators of the Madrasa Discourses,
is being revitalised in this program.
words of Professor Mahan Mirza, a former faculty for the Madrasa Discourses who
is now the executive director at Ansari Institute of Global Engagement with
Religion: “The program’s vision is to revitalize a conversation commensurate
with the intellectual currents of our time”. A great amount of emphasis is laid
on the scholarly underpinnings of classical Islamic thinkers on tradition (Riwāyat)
and authenticity (Haqqaniyat or Asālat). In a nutshell, the classical
Islamic concept of tradition, known in Arabic as Turāth (which also
means “heritage”), is the solid foundation laid below ground to support and
strengthen the entire edifice of the Madrasa Discourses. To them, the
authenticity (Asālat) of a tradition lies in its exact transmission from
one generation to another with responsibility (Amānat). However, it does
not prevent them from resorting to creative re-thinking (Ijtihad) for
the construction of ‘new knowledge’ in an intellectual effort to address
various issues of their societies. This is what catches the imagination of
modern graduates of Indo-Pak madrasas, mostly youths in their 30s, in the
academic exercises of the Madrasa Discourses.
together the scholastic theology (Ilmul Kalam), Big History and modern
philosophy, the program is aimed to achieve the re-union of Islamic faith and
revelation with reason and contemporary philosophies ushering in an era of
Islam as a ‘living tradition’. Ebrahim Moosa, Professor of Islamic Studies at University
of Notre Dame, who co-directs the “Contending Modernities”, and is the Director
of the Madrasa Discourses visited India in the third week of July on the
successful completion of the first batch of participants in the program. On
this occasion, he was invited to several institutions like Jamia Millia Islamia
for his lectures on the related themes. On July 25, one such lecture was
organised by Indian Institute of Islamic Studies at the headquarters of
Jama’at-e-Islami Hind, Abul Fazl Enclave in New Delhi.
Raziul Islam Nadvi of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind introduced Prof. E Moosa to the
students enrolled at the two-year course on “Comparative Religion” at this
institute of Jama’at-e-Islami Hind. At the very outset, Dr. Raziul Islam spoke
on his enchantment with Prof. Moosa’s seminal work “What is Madrasa?” which was
published in 2015. “This is an essential reading on South Asia’s traditional
Islamic seminaries for the European and American audience”, he said. He also
talked of Moosa’s contributions on the medieval Islamic thought, with special
reference to his major work on the 12th-century Muslim thinker, Abu Hamid
al-Ghazali (d. 1111). “The prize-winning book “Ghazali and the Poetics of
Imagination” (University of North Carolina Press, 2005) was awarded the Best
First Book in the History of Religions by the American Academy of Religion”, he
introduction to Prof. Moosa, Dr. Raziul Islam gave reference to another Islamic
scholar and author Dr. Akram Nadwi, the Dean of Cambridge Islamic College,
deporting his memory back to the times he spent with Prof. Moosa and Dr. Nadwi
as classmates in Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow.
went on to say that aggressive social media campaigns against the Madrasa
Discourses program which are underfoot on several Facebook pages and WhatsApp
groups in India and Pakistan, more particularly after a symposium on the MD at
Jamia Millia Islamia has successfully completed in presence of renowned and
acclaimed Muslim intellectuals, are just pointless and one should not pay heed
to them. He expressed gratitude to E. Moosa for accepting the invitation to
speak at the Jama'at e Islami Hind. This was reciprocated by Maulana Jalaluddin
Umri, Ameer of the Jama'at and Dr. Hasan Raza, course coordinator of the Indian
Institute of Islamic Studies.
hour-long address, Prof. E. Moosa expounded the key issues and challenges that
the Madrasa graduates encounter during and after their student life.
Elaborating his idea of Madrasa Discourses and why this is a profound
opportunity for the new generation of ulema in India and Pakistan, he recalled
his first encounter with Dr. Fazlur Rahman and his momentous work known as
“Islam”, which is among the rarest books that depict a ‘big picture’ of Islam.
With an incisive and surprisingly comprehensive history and analysis of
Islam—history, legacy, conflicts and prospects— Fazlur Rahman introduces an
Islam that is not known to many—Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
then linked it to Dr Abdul Haque Ansari, an Indian Islamic scholar and the Amir
of Jama’at-e-Islami Hind (2003-2007) who established the Indian Institute of
Islamic Studies in New Delhi to train graduates from secular educational
background in Islamic sciences and the madrasa students in a modern curriculum.
Ansari wrote extensively on Sufism and Shariah and attempted to present a
synthesis of Sufi and Fiq’hi thought, especially what he termed as ‘Tatbiq’
(reconciliation and coherence) of Shah Waliullah and Shaikh Ahmed Sir Hindi’s
thoughts. Moosa said that Ansari greatly contributed to the Islamic world in
terms of knowledge and thought.
In the main
part of his lecture, Prof. Moosa chose to focus on the “Reconstruction of
Islamic theology (Ilahiyyat)” as the pressing need of the time for the
constant renewal of Islamic tradition. He said he envisioned the program for
the madrasa graduates to supplement their classical Islamic studies with an
essential literacy in the modern secular fields of knowledge. He recalled how
in the pre-colonial times, Indian madrasas made use of the Ma’qulat (rational
sciences) as keys to understanding the scriptural texts in the medieval
highlighted how classical Islamic textbooks were heavily influenced by
Aristotelian philosophy and metaphysics, to the extent that it was difficult to
distinguish between what was ‘Islamic’ and ‘un-Islamic’ in their tradition. So
much influence from the Greek philosophers enabled the ulema to conceptualise
their theological discourses, he said.
But what we
oftentimes hear from the present-day ulema is that the "Islamic thought is
in crisis". The prevailing perception of ‘decline’ (Zawal in Urdu)
deeply steeped in the psyche of the Ummah is held accountable for every problem
we face today. We don't look at Islamic traditions with the historical methodology.
Even if we do that, certain ideologies come into play, Moosa lamented. He
continued: What has maintained Islam is the ‘intellectual tradition’ which is
lost to the madrasa circles today. Only identity is being formed in today’s
madrasas which have become like the 'Republic of Letters'. Modern sciences are
introduced as 'heresies', while in the past, Greek Philosophy was studied in
the traditional madrasas which was completely fine-tuned and beneficial. They
tried to make small intellectual adjustments in order to achieve the best and
glanced through the works of Sufi philosophers like Shahabuddin Suharwardi, Ibn
Arabi, Mulla Sadra, Allama Taftazani, Allama Jurjani, Muhaqqiq Dawwani and Maulana
Siyalkoti in order to substantiate how they formed the main body of the Islamic
scholastic tradition (Ilm ul Kalam). Thus, he introduced an interpretive
framework of the reconstruction of the religious thought in Islam, contending
that tradition is a ‘living entity’ in which the scriptural texts are being
dealt with different interpretations.
recalled that during his Nadwa times, he did not just focus on the Islamic
textbooks (darsiyat) but also looked up to other scholars’ works like the books
of Maududi, Khumaini’s Iranian revolution, IkhwanulMuslimin’s movement, and all
benefitted him in intellectual ways, he maintained. Later in his journalistic
career, he became explorer of the new doors to knowledge. Dr. Fazlur Rahman’s
book "Islam" which revolutionised his thought process as it presented
Islam in a historical methodology did not prevent him from differing from
several ideas of Rahman. The book benefitted him even in the anti-apartheid
movement in South Africa, his hometown.
regrettably for most madrasa graduates and ulema today, their age-old
curriculum has clear answers for every emerging issue in modern society, Moosa
said, terming this method as the ‘McDonaldisation of Islamic teachings’ and
‘the fast-food version of Islam’. Thus, Moosa criticized the
“Quran-and-Hadith-only” approach to address the modern issues. This ‘quick-made
Islam’, he said, will not help us find the solutions. Citing Ghazali as an
example, Moosa pointed out that an authentic and exhilarating tradition always
interacts with the current realities to redefine itself.
concluding remarks, Prof. E. Moosa said: “In search of authenticity (Haqqaniyat),
the sense of responsibility which is called Amanah in the Qur'anic terminology,
is the most important. We limit our understanding of the religious tradition to
the Qur'an and Hadith so much that the big picture of Islam is missing today.
The exclusivist Qur’an-and-Hadith approach continues to cause the ulema to
reject the rational sciences in the madrasas like the Greek Philosophy. It is
unfortunate that the books on Mantiq (logic), Falsafa
(philosophy), lisaniyat (linguistics) etc. were replaced by the maximum portion
of the Quranic exegesis and Hadith commentaries. Therefore, we need to revisit
the history in order to understand our tradition. Every age had a different
context for the Divine revelation. Only critical thinking can make the
traditionalist thought in full synergy with the present times.
lecture ended with a Question and Answer session in which he stated, in
response to some questions, that only in the Salafi Madrasa curricula some
changes and modifications are seen. But no tangible chan ge has been seen in the Dars-e-Nizami curriculum and system of the
Barelwi and Deobandi madrasas. “It's not okay to provide second-rate education
in religious studies just as in secular subjects”, he said.
80 percent of the madrasa graduates be well versed in Arabic and Persian today?
Why can't they be masters in Urdu prose and poetry,Moosa asked. Only four
percent of them are enabled to make use of the courses they study in the
madrasas. If the madrasa graduates are well versed even only in the classic
Islamic studies and Arabic and Persian languages, they can work wonders. But
even if you fly to the moon, you can't run away from maternities, he added.
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