Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
17 June 2017
progressive Islamic theology based on the rationalist as well as traditionalist
foundations has long been emphasised. It is conceived in order to enable the
Islamic scholars to creatively rethink their positions on the issues of
contemporary relevance. Those glorified as Ulema--the graduates of the
traditional Islamic seminaries (madrasas)--are still looked up as thought
leaders and instructors in the daily practical life of Muslims the world over.
But regrettably, they are no longer intellectually capable to tackle the
baffling issues and challenges posed to the Ummah or global Muslim community.
As a matter of fact, today's Ulema are not well-equipped with the modern
scholastic abilities to guide the global Muslim society in the rapidly changing
and dynamically emerging issues of modern life.
State of Affairs
deplorably, the present-day Ulema and muftis boast of their thoughts deeply
steeped in an unreformed madrasa curriculum—Dars-e-Nizami. Often, they issue
such irrelevant religious decrees or Fatwas that make a mockery of the daily
affairs of Muslim life. This is precisely the reason behind the stereotyped
image of Muslims in the wider world. Fatwas based on the misconstrued and
'out-of-context' texts put the Muslims to collective shame and cynicism. One
wonders if they are stuck in the pre-historic age and are completely out of
touch with the scientific truths.
world Muslims grapple with an increasing number of religious and geopolitical
issues, the Ulema and Islamic thought leaders miserably fail to accomplish
their duty. Rather, their regressive pronouncements only enhance the perception
that Muslims are not open to progressive thoughts or fresh ideas.
actually an inevitable result of the clergy's failure in developing a canonical
Islamic worldview incorporating the progressive Qura'nic traditions in full
harmony with the established scientific trends. At a time when the world has
ushered in an enlightened era of scientific ideas, Muslim theologians are in a
dire need for a gradual logical progression in their socio-religious thoughts.
This should be the urgent task of the Madrasas which enable their students to
grasp the past Islamic tradition with efficiency but fail to help them understand
modern humanities and sciences.
of this pressing necessity, an experimental project of Madrasa reformation is
conducted by faculty at the US-based University of Notre Dame, as part of its
"Contending Modernities" initiative. It was launched in January 2017
as a 3-year online program for the Madrasa students across the world to enhance
their literacy, intellectual capacity and academic engagement. The university's
website has plainly put the objective of this initiative as follows:
"The Ulema provide crucial religious guidance in
values and everyday practice to Muslims around the world. They are the
custodians of traditional learning in Muslim societies and particularly in
South Asia, helping shape the social and cultural outlook of their communities.
Upgrading the capacity of these theologians could have a multiplier effect on
millions. A transformative impact on the Ulema, and by extension, on Muslim
societies beyond South Asia, is a long-term goal of this project".
as "Madrasa Discourses", this extensive program is primarily
focused on the conciliation of traditional Islamic theology with contemporary
scientific notions. The three-year course primarily consists of four
introductory parts: Ilmul Kalam (Islamic scholastic theology), Islamic
jurisprudence (Ilm-ul-Fiqh), Muslim history (al-Tarikh al-Islami) and an
objective study of different branches of the classical and modern Islamic
theology. In addition, the English and Arabic language abilities are also
imparted to the madrasa students enrolled in this course. They are recommended
to hone their English language skills through the BBC English learning program.
of eminent Islamic scholars who are well-versed in classical Islamic sciences
and well-trained in the modern universities—are the lead faculties of this
long-term course. Most notable among them are: (1) Dr. Ebrahim Moosa, a
Professor of Islamic Studies at the university of Notre Dame who is trained in
both traditional (orthodox) Islamic institutions in India and in the modern
academy specializing in the study of religion at the University of Cape Town.
(2) Dr. Mahan Mirza, a Professor at the Kroc Institute for International Peace
Studies at the University of Notre Dame, who has spent several years working
with religious groups around issues of social justice. (3) Dr. Waris Mazhari, a
graduate of Darul Uloom Deoband, who presently serves as a lecturer at the
Department of Islamic Studies in Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia. (4) Maulana
Ammar K. Nasr of the Shariah Academy at International Islamic University in
Innovative Islamic Curriculum
Madrasa Discourse program has put forward an innovative Islamic curriculum with
potentially transformative experience for the Ulema, imams and other madrasa graduates.
It offers rich intellectual resources to reshape their thoughts in spirit with
the intellectual Islamic traditions and in full synergy with the moral
trajectories of peaceful coexistence in the modern interreligious and
Ebrahim Moosa, the director of the Madrasa Discourse, expounds that this
project is aimed to achieve the "conciliation between traditional Islamic
thought and contemporary scientific and philosophical worldviews". Talking
to this writer, Prof. Moosa said that Madrasa graduates need to understand
contemporary humanities, science and social science, not as experts but as part
of their basic literacy. That will enable them to become able and relevant
interpreters of Islam today.
this cannot be accomplished without a reformed educational curriculum that
could enable the Ulema to update their age-old intellectual tradition by
deepening their theological and scientific literacy. Given this, the Madrasa
Discourse program is could be seen as a step towards the Renaissance in the
modern intellectual history of the Ulema tradition.
asked about the nature of madrasa education reform that this project intends to
bring out in the Indian subcontinent, Prof. Moosa replied: "Even the best
reforms of madrasa education in India and Pakistan today hardly meet the
minimal standards of what is required in terms of reform. In this experimental
Madrasa Discourses project, we have witnessed the transformative experiences
many recent madrasa graduates have gained.
They are challenged intellectually and they have shown to be most
capable in acquiring the skills necessary for them to become thought leaders in
Moosa strongly advocates radical reform in the madrasa education. "It is
required in order to create a dynamic Muslim religious leadership who can both
preserve the best of tradition and construct a modern Muslim theology for the
twenty first century", he believes.
today's Ulema and Islamic theologians find themselves incapable to provide
incisive guidance in modern societies, because their medieval interpretations
of the Islamic theology are patently out of date. Without understanding how
history changes society and persons, how can the Ulema be the thought leaders in
raised this question to Professor Mahan Mirza too. He commented that if madrasa
students are given a chance to engage with the contemporary intellectual
currents, they will develop syntheses that will make both the tradition and its
bearers--the Ulema--once again relevant, if not central, in the lifeblood of
Muslim societies as guides and peacemakers. "I think Madrasa education
system needs to expose students to different conceptual universes that science
and philosophy have opened up for us today. This does not mean that Madrasa
students are to be converted to ways of thinking that are alien to the
classical scholarly tradition of Islam. Instead, renewal in Islamic thought
will take place organically as a result of genuine encounters with new
knowledge and modern experiences", Mirza said.
Intensive Madrasa Program
as part of the Madrasa Discourse, an onsite intensive program was held in the
ongoing summer. In 4-hour sessions held every day jointly via Zoom and
participated by both Indian and Pakistani Madrasa graduates, an array of
interesting topics were lively discussed and independently rethought and
debated between the madrasa students and their instructors. In New Delhi's Don
Bosco Provincial School, while Dr. Waris Mazhari discussed theoretical
conceptions of Ilm ul Kalam (Islamic philosophy) in light of Imam
Ghazali's writings, Prof. Mahan Mirza analyzed the key readings from Sophie's
World, an interesting novel which explores the myriad notions of the
Western philosophical thought. On the other hand in Pakistan, Maulana Ammar K.
Nasr, speaking via Zoom, dwelt on Ibn Khaldun and his principles of
historiography with a critical appreciation.
April 7, the Madrasa Discourse's onsite intensive program was organised in
JNU's School Of Language, Literature and Culture Studies. Presiding over the
session, Prof. Altaf Ahmad Azmi, former head of Centre for History of Medicine
& Science (Faculty of Islamic Studies & Social Sciences, Hamdard
University) discussed the key issues and debates in the Islamic philosophy (Ilm
ul-Kalam). In this event, a considerable number of students from different
departments of JNU also participated and interacted with the Madrasa Discourse
faculty. Noted historian, Professor A.K. Ramakrishna of JNU addressed the
students on the philosophy of history, particularly reflecting on the prominent
end of this onsite intensive program of the Madrasa Discourse, a two-day field
trip was arranged for the students to visit India's reputed Muslim educational
institution, Aligarh Muslim University. They interacted with the noted Islamic
historian, Prof. Yaseen Mazhar Siddiqui (formerly associated with AMU's
Department of Islamic Sciences), among others.
Professor Siddiqui, who is esteemed as an authoritative Islamic
historiographer, addressed questions ranging from the principles of Islamic
historiography, texts and contexts of the Hadith and Sirah literature to modern
critical subjects related to the Islamic jurisprudence or Fiqh.
Professor Siddiqui who is himself a Hanafi practitioner noted that the history
of Sunni-Hanafi jurisprudence is replete with many instances of various
practices which were strictly followed earlier by the Hanafi Muslims, but later
on, were abolished by the Sunni-Hanafi imams and Ulema due to changes in the
socio-political contexts. "Today's social conditions require the Hanafi
clergy to incorporate the essential reforms in the Sharia laws including the
Triple Talaq. Islamic jurisprudential framework has adequate scope for reform
in the divorce laws, contrary to what some traditionalist and non-rationalist
Muslims might think", he stated it in his response to a question raised by
a female participant of the Madrasa Discourse.
his reflection to this debate, Maulana Waris Mazhari opined that Hanafi
scholars will do best to take the reformation initiative by themselves. Most
Hanafi Muslims, he said, are in misconception that any reform originating from
outside the Hanafi-Sunni jurisprudence is abhorrent and unlawful. "This is
why they oppose the argument for the triple Talaqs in one sitting to be just
one, not three. In fact, this concept has no authentic foundation in the
Islamic jurisprudence", he added.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a regular
columnist with www.newageislam.com , scholar of classical Arabic and Islamic
Sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies at
Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia.
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