Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Need Islamic Inst. 03-01-31

Establish Islamic research Institutes in the west

Mirza A. Beg
Written January 31, 2003

The Minaret Vol. 25, Issue 3 March 2003

Muslims all over the world, especially in North America have built thousands of Masjids. There is a gleaming new Masjid in almost every University town. Larger metropolitan areas have many Masajid. The next step in cultural and religious rooting, the establishment of parochial schools seems to be going on steadily.

There are Islamic organizations such as ISNA, ICNA, CAIR, AMC and many others, involved in presenting, propagating the message of Islam, and are involved in social and political work with varying degrees of success. There are magazines and newspapers representing and informing the Muslim community in North America.

All these are symptomatic of a developing reasonably vibrant community. The roots are being planted and nurtured. The work done and being planned by all the above entities is valuable and needed. The method of learning and propagation of Qur’an and Hadeeth through these institutions is the continuation of what was and is almost frozen in time, which may be all right for the primary and secondary education, but the adult mind especially the young adult mind needs to be challenged.

There has been a quantum jump in the number of Muslim scholars in many western universities in the last forty years. All of the better known western Universities have reputable departments or faculty for Islamic studies. They have established excellent reputations, in the field of Islamic studies, consisting of historical perspective of Muslim civilizations, political developments, social developments or lack there of, ethnography etc. They have produced excellent books, monographs, essays and commentaries. These are great gifts to the intellectuals. A miniscule minority of Muslim and non-Muslim intelligentsia reads and appreciates them.

Most Muslims in the west live their lives in daily pursuit of livelihood and take special pride in quoting Hadeeth and some times Qur’an. They try to take their guidance from the fountainhead of Islam. In the process often, Hadeeth is not so much misquoted as quoted out of context and out of place. The depth and breadth of understanding is of not much concern.

There has been a lot of discussion about the problems associated with quoting and interpreting Ahdeeth and their authenticity. Yet to my knowledge there is no new expounding and discerning work on the authenticity, gradation and probity of Ahdieeth or a study of those who were so prolific at imparting these loaded some times seemingly contradictory words to subsequent generations. It is time to mount a serious effort towards gaining insight and historical perspective, in order to bring it in the realm of understanding in for the contemporary times.

It is time to establish through endowments, independent department of Islamic studies in a few major Universities. The purpose would be to study and interpret, specifically Qur'an, Hadeeth and the derivation of Jurisprudence. One may think in terms of a Western ALAzhar or, “Dar-ul-Uloom”.

Many departments exist that teach and research Islam in the western universities, but none to my knowledge whose emphasis is on Qur'an and Hadeeth. Of course there are many departments in the Muslim countries. This or these new centers would have their mission to study and research in the most rigorous terms with no agenda, except to seek knowledge with utmost intellectual freedom. An idea of historical accuracy championed by Ibn Khaledoon that has evolved into a rigorous scientific methodology in the west.

The purpose would be pure research and teaching, not to sieve through a grating to celebrate and validate or to denigrate Islam. The most religious of the ideas is to understand the truth behind words the best one can, through historical and linguistic research. There would be, as there always have been (unless stifled) disagreements. Through the hashing of disagreements and intellectual dialogue would come better understanding. The biographies coming from such an effort would not be a hatchet job or simple hagiographies. The teaching would be

It is time to translate and interpret the great religious works of the past in English, which is, and is likely to be the most important intellectual and commercial language for the foreseeable future. The great Muslim and non-Muslim scholars in the west have mostly written explaining Islam to the west. It is time to understand, research and explain the nuances of Arabic to the English speaking Muslim Diaspora for whom we are establishing Masajids and Islamic schools.

This in no way would replace the great learning centers in the East, it would augment them and provide a healthy new dimension to the dialogue and research using scientific logic, though pioneered by the medieval Muslim scholars, has come to fruition in the west.

Such an unencumbered department/Institute/entity in the present circumstances can not function in the Islamic countries. Those perceived to question deeply held beliefs would fear for their livelihoods and even their lives. But in North America or Europe scholars with proven scholarly credentials can do wonderful work to build on the rich tradition of early Islamic scholarship. They can mine the information from little known yet important Islamic sources that dotted the whole of Islamic world through the centuries and produce thoughtful and thought provoking analyses that would affect the whole of Islamic polity and ethos.

This effort would take a number of years to get going and a generation or two to flower. But it is needed for the future to arrive in the colors we want and hope to see.

This would require a huge endowment. With a large Muslim polity it is difficult but not out of reach. Most organizations are ultimately beholden to those who fund them, be they individual donors, government subsidies, or public contributions. An endowment would make them truly independent of any monitory constraints, and engender a truly free environment for the search for truth and knowledge in the best tradition of Islamic spirit and western scientific research methodology.

There are many good organizers and leaders in the community. It would be great if they take up the task and think about this proposal. With thoughtful comments, adjustments, modifications and above all commitment it can be accomplished. It would not only be good for Muslim community; it would be a gift to the humanity with no ulterior motives or demand of a return favor.

Mirza A. Beg can be contacted at

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