Professor of Islamic Studies, Universitas Islam Negari Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta (Indonesia)
In Abdullah’s absence, his speech was presented by a staff–member of the NYU Center for Dialogues. Abdullah’s comments focused on the recent expansion of Islamic studies to include not only historical and doctrinal aspects, but also Islam as a culture, civilization, community, and political, economic, and globalizing force. Nevertheless, he acknowledged, many Islamic studies departments remain rooted in uncritical tradition, often leading to conflict among Muslims of different denominations and beliefs.
So how does the field of Islamic studies, Abdullah asked, compete with other “scientific disciplines” in addressing contemporary issues in areas such as human rights, gender equity, international relations, and the environment? To Abdullah’s mind, this is where the tools of modern epistemology find their relevance. He cited the works of Richard C. Martin (an “outsider” to Islam) and of Mohammed Arkoun (an “insider”) as good examples. Richard C. Martin’s book, Approaches to Islam in Religious Studies,8 presents Islam as a historical entity subject to scientific study beyond “sacred” theological interpretation. Abdullah cited the work of Khaled M. Abou El–Fadl 9 and Jasser Auda 10 as representing a new generation of interdisciplinary approaches to Islamic studies that still rigorously maintain the discipline of Islamic Religious Knowledge, or ’Ulum al–Diin.
Abdullah’s speech also covered the development of Islamic studies in the context of Indonesia, where inter–disciplinary and multi–disciplinary approaches have been put into practice since the establishment of Islamic State Universities in 2002. At the Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University of Yogyakarta, a new scientific paradigm called “integrated–interconnected science” 11 recognizes that a scholar must analyze his field by integrating other disciplines and recognizing their interconnectivity.
Abdullah’s remarks then delved deeper into the ontology of contemporary Islamic studies, and the importance of differentiating between Islamic Studies (Dirasat Islamiyyah), Islamic Thought (al–Fikr al–Islamy), and Islamic Religious Knowledge ( ’Ulum al–Diin ). He emphasized that Islamic Thought or al–Fikr al–Islamy has a scientific and systematic structure, and a strong and comprehensive body of knowledge on Islam, while ’Ulum al–Diin often emphasizes certain parts rather than the full body of knowledge. He also discussed how certain religious groups, sects, or organizations may intentionally or unintentionally skew this knowledge set to suit their own purposes and perspectives. In his opinion, the presence of al–Fikr al–Islamy, which is more historical, systematical, comprehensive, non–sectarian, non–provincial, and non–parochial, helps students complete their knowledge of ’Ulum al–Diin .
Pointing to the proliferation of Islamic scientific journals, symposiums, seminars, encyclopedia, and new books published by both ’insiders’ and ’outsiders,’ Abdullah concluded that the Islamic academic world keeps growing and follows the development of research methods in general. He remarked that contemporary Islamic studies, or Dirasat Islamiyyah, always uses and collaborates with methods of thought and research in social sciences and contemporary humanities to reveal Islamic religiosity in daily life, not only limited in circle of foundational texts. These new approaches have surprised and sometimes offended students of ’Ulum al–Diin who are still implementing old scientific paradigms and perspectives. Some Islamic studies approaches have been criticized as secular, liberal, apostate, and the like. 12
Looking to the future, Abdullah described the main project of the contemporary Islamic Studies as eliminating misunderstanding and mutual suspicion between Islamic Studies (Dirasat Islamiyyah), Islamic Thought (al–Fikr al–Islamy), and Islamic Religious Knowledge ( ’Ulum al–Diin ). Their only true differences, he believes, are in methods (process and procedure), horizon of observation and theoretical framework (approaches), and sources of data. Abdullah called for the present generation of students, scholars, and other stakeholders to unite these three clusters.
Tlili then introduced Mahmoud Hussein as “two men with a shared mind.” Mahmoud Hussein is the nom de plume of Adel Rifaat and Bahgat El Nadi, political scientists who have co–authored a number of books and articles. Their most recent book, not yet translated into English, raises the implications of interpretation for the social, political, cultural, and ethical issues faced by Muslim communities today. Tlili added that their work also carries implications for the relationships between Muslim and non–Muslim communities around the world, on issues ranging from the status of women to freedom of expression. Adel Rifaat gave the presentation on behalf of the pair.Back to the top.