Muslims Under Non-Muslim Rule: Ibn Taymiyya

Muslims Under Non-Muslim Rule: Ibn Taymiyya

“Among the fundamentals of the truth, which the texts [to which one refers to know the religion] provide proofs of, is that people with a tyrannical (jā’ir) and unjust (zālim) leader are ordered to show patience (sabr) in the face of his tyranny, his injustice, his oppression (baghi), and not to fight him…”

(Ibn Taymiyya, al-Istiqamā, i. 32)

Yahya Michot’s Muslims Under Non-Muslim Rule: Ibn Taymiyya, which was originally published in French, is a much needed corrective that places Ibn Taymiyya in the proper context. It shows the misreading of Ibn Taymiyya by neo-Orientalist scholars and by certain violent Islamists. The value therefore is that it helps explain to what extent Ibn Taymiyya has been either misunderstood or misrepresented. In theory and practice Ibn Taymiyya advocated force only against foreign invaders; he forbade use of force against established authorities; himself dying in prison for outspoken criticism of the State, without resort to force or sedition of any kind.

The frames Michot uses to examine the modern readings of Ibn Taymiyya are through four questions Ibn Taymiyya was asked: a) when should one flee (migrate) from sin?; b) what are the different types of emigration?; c) what is the status of Mardin, a city in modern day Turkey, which had been occupied by the Mongols, and whether it was in Balād al-Silm (land of peace) or Balād al-Harb (land of war)?; and d) what are the conditions for challenging power? (pp. 63–100).

Indeed, while a valuable and worthwhile book for scholars in Islamic studies, it may remain largely inaccessible to the lay reader interested in learning more about security and terrorism-related issues on a sophisticated level.

And only God knows best.

Hāroon Ibn Ebrāhim Sīdāt

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The End of Education – Redefining the value of school

The End of Education – Redefining the value of school

The End of Education – Redefining the value of school by Neil Postman

Review by Haroon Ibn Ebrahim Sidat

As parents consider how to go about schooling of their children, they are confronted with two problems. Firstly, we have the engineering problem that deals with the means by which the young will learn. Postman believes that the debate over the future of America’s schools (the same could be applied to schools here in the UK) focuses too much on engineering concerns — curricula, teaching methods, tests, the role of technology, etc. — while very little attention is paid to the second problem; the metaphysics of schooling. What is more important is that you become a different person because of what you have learnt; that your world is altered. For that to happen, you need a reason. Nietzsche’s aphorism helps us here: “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how. Postman talks about having a god to serve; using the word as a synonym for a narrative. The point is “without a narrative, life has no meaning. Without meaning, learning has no purpose. Without a purpose, schools are houses of detention, not attention” (pg. 7).

Using the theme of god, Postman describes new gods that have rushed in to replace the old, but most have had no staying power (such as the gods of communism, Nazism, and fascism). The same applies to modern education; our students are presently being asked to serve several gods. What keeps our schools from being effective, he says, is the lack of commonly accepted stories, or the inadequacy of those we have in giving meaning and direction to schooling. At the moment, education is geared towards economic utility, consumerism, technology, multiculturalism and other bogus objectives. These new gods are failing us and are incapable of providing a rich and sustaining rationale for public education.

So which gods may serve us? Postman offers an answer in the form of five narratives: “Spaceship Earth” (the notion of humans as stewards of the planet – an echo of khalifa mentioned in the Quran?); “The Fallen Angel” (a view of history and the advancement of knowledge as a series of errors and corrections); “The American Experiment” (the story of America as a great experiment and as a centre of continuous argument); “The Laws of Diversity” (the view that difference contributes to increased vitality and excellence, and, ultimately, to a sense of unity); and “The Word Weavers/The World Makers” (the understanding that the world is created through language — through definitions, questions, and metaphors).

Postman also offers a number of admittedly radical innovations towards making schools more effective. He argues that textbooks should be altogether eliminated because they have a deadening effect on students and promotes a view of education as the acquisition of immutable facts. He proposes that teachers should offer incentives to students who find errors in their lessons. And he feels that the subjects of archeology, geology and astronomy be given the highest priority since they imbue students with a sense of awe and global interdependence.

These proposals notwithstanding, Postman stresses that his main purpose is to promote a serious conversation about the underlying reasons for education — not about policies, management, assessment, and other engineering matters. While these are important, he states, “They ought rightfully to be addressed after decisions are made about what schools are for.”

If a metaphor may be permitted, we can make the trains run on time, but if they do not go where we want them to go, why bother?

The End of Education – Redefining the value of school

What is a Madrasa? By Professor Ebrahim Moosa: Book Review

What is a Madrasa? By Professor Ebrahim Moosa: Book Review

In The Name of God, The Most Merciful, The Especially Merciful

What is a Madrasa?

By Professor Ebrahim Moosa

Review by Haroon Ibn Ebrahim Sidat

Given the context of spurious accusations of links to terrorism and the “us versus them” dynamic being played out in the West, this is a rare contribution from an “insider,” as it were, of madrasas in South Asia. Moosa challenges sensationalist stereotypical narratives by providing a nuanced and richly textured account of the place and importance of madrasas in Islam both historically and in the contemporary moment. Madrasas refer to the institutions of higher lslamic learning in South Asia and are equivalent to seminaries, where religious functionaries and experts in Islamic law and theology are trained. Blending with his own life experiences, Moosa lays bare his objective at the outset; the book “is a primer about the role madrasas play in the cultural, intellectual, and religious experiences of Muslims in the present and past”(pg. 8). It is clear, at least in Muslim eyes, madrasas promote the “public good” despite attacks from the West and secular elites in Muslim-majority countries.

Moosa navigates us through his “lived experience” with his time at Darul Uloom Deoband – “the most prominent and prestigious madrasa for those affiliated with the Deobandi interpretation of Sunni Islam” (pg. 21). Beyond the observation of religious rituals and quotidian acts that take place in a madrasa, we are treated to the warmth the pursuit of sacred knowledge brings – all the more familiar to anyone who has made the precarious leap from madrasah to university. Discontent pertaining to the utility of part of the curriculum (known as the Dars-i Nizami) is explored, where critics make the charge of anachronism, a claim that is partly true. His search for somewhere with less of a textual focus leads him to Darul Uloom Nadwatul ‘Ulama where he paints the move as one “from a conservative divinity school to a liberal one” (pg. 27). Moosa remains colourful about his experiences as a student, wanting to “remain a friendly critic” of the madrasa and like many of us, recognises that the madrasa offers enormous value.

Moosa charts the history and the context of the contemporary Madrasa, from its formative years through to the creation of the Nizami curriculum. It is worthwhile mentioning that the early iteration of the curriculum centered on subjects likes philosophy, logic and theology. It is only in the twentieth and twenty first century that the education has shifted to prophetic traditions and Islamic law. Nevertheless, the tradition cultivates a commitment to scholasticism and Moosa takes care to take us through texts, predispositions and idiosyncrasies of certain authors.

The discussion turns to where I feel Moosa is most concerned, where the “efficiency of the Nizami Curriculum is widely debated.” Taking us through five stages of education in the subcontinent (with each phase being distinguished by the addition or subtraction of texts and changes in the focus of curricula design), the madrasa has morphed from being an academic cum religious institution into an exclusively religious institution – a change from a “Republic of Letters” to a “Republic of Piety”. Despite knowledge of the tradition being a highly valued trait, excellence in knowledge is seen as being secondary to moral formation and ethical excellence. The debate expands into the interpretation of knowledge itself: should it be worldly and exoteric? Or should it be reserved to matters related to salvation? There are now those within madrasa circles who challenge the latter dominant interpretation which they argue has led to “intellectual monasticism”. The battle between those who would amend the curriculum and those who favour the status quo is far from resolved. What is required is a robust internal debate about the future of the curriculum and the shape of knowledge that is required in order to produce meaningful Islamic discourses that are compatible with the world Muslims now find themselves in.

There is no doubt that madrasas are the most orthodox representatives of Islam, and their future hinges on how far they are prepared to make a Faustian bargain with modernity and its knowledge system. Written in an exceptionally lucid fashion, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the complexities of Muslim traditions of knowledge and education. It will also be particularly well suited for undergraduate and graduate seminars on Muslim intellectual thought, education, and Islam in South Asia.

WhatisaMadrassa -HSi

From Behind the Curtain: A Study of a Girls’ Madrasa in India

From Behind the Curtain: A Study of a Girls’ Madrasa in India

In the aftermath of 9/11 Islamic seminaries or madrasas received much media attention in India, mostly owing to the alleged link between madrasa education and forms of violence. Yet, while there is some information on madrasas for boys, similar institutions of Islamic learning for girls have for the greater part escaped public attention so far. This study investigates how madrasas for girls emerged in India, how they differ from madrasas for boys, and how female students come to interpret Islam through the teachings they receive in these schools. Observations suggest that, next to the official curriculum, the ‘informal’ curriculum plays an equally important role. It serves the madrasa’s broader aim of bringing about a complete reform of the students’ morality and to determine their actions accordingly.

There is a discussion on the Purdah: being physically present but socially absent? The Habermasian notion of the public sphere is severely criticised. Fraser, for instance, proposes to employ the term ‘subaltern counterpublics’, that is ‘parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circu- late counterdiscourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests and needs’ (Fraser 1992:123). Although the Madrasa is not so much an arena for debate than a space for the enactment of particular identities, it can be seen as a counterpublic. Such counterpublics are particularly likely to emerge in stratified societies, which are defined as ‘societies whose basic institutional framework generates unequal social groups in structural relations of dominance and subordination’ (Fraser 1992:122). Warner defines a counterpublic as a public that maintains awareness of its subordinate status and sets itself off against a dominant public (Warner 2002:86)

There is another line of criticism of the Habermasian notion of the public sphere that is relevant to the discussion on the Madrasa. As Moors (2005) has pointed out, this notion is also limiting in its exclusive focus on rational debate as the only legitimate form of participating in the modern public sphere, for this means that other forms and styles of communication are a-priori seen as ineffective and undesirable. If, however, the public sphere is recognised as an arena wherein group identities and interests are always at stake, then there is a need for a more all-encompassing ‘politics of presence’ that allows for the inclusion of other forms of critical expression and non-verbal modes of communication. Such a ‘politics of presence’ becomes especially relevant when discussing contributions of subaltern groups that may be less well versed in effectively presenting their points of view in normalised and hence acceptable formats of ‘rational argumentation’. Forms and styles of presentation may include, for instance, bodily comportment, appearance, and dressing styles. Wearing modest dress can be an act of participation in the public sphere, because it may be perceived as a statement by the public, even though making a statement may not be the (primary) intention of the wearer.

Haroon Ibn Ebrahim Sidat

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Fraser, Nancy 1992, ‘Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy’, in Craig Calhoun (ed.), Habermas and the Public Sphere, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Habermas, Jürgen 1994, ‘The Emergence of the Public Sphere’, in Giddens, A. (et al.) (eds.), The Polity Reader in Cultural Theory, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Moors, Annelies 2005 (forthcoming), ‘Families in Public Discourse’, AFWG (ed.), Framings: Rethinking Arab Families, 1-16.

Warner, Michael 2002, ‘Publics and Counterpublics’, Public Culture 14 (1), 97-114.

The injustice towards our Ulamā

The injustice towards our Ulamā

Shukran to Sheikh Yusuf for sharing his thoughts online – ‘The Silent plea of Ulama’ (http://nawadir.org/2015/10/11/the-silent-plea-of-ulama/)

I wanted to share some of my own thoughts. It is by no means exhaustive and there is always room for more. I pray that Allāh Almighty grants us all the correct understanding which can then translate into some form of concrete action.

No doubt, there is an overemphasis on structures and buildings. Too much money is being spent wantonly. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against buildings that give great aesthetic pleasure (and lets be honest here, most of them look painfully out of place), but its time we pivoted our focus on what really matters, our people. In our context, I am referring to our teachers (this includes Imāms and Ulamā).

The view some people hold that the quality of teaching is something that needs looking at it reeks of hypocrisy. What I mean by this is that we bemoan the standard of teaching whilst systemically refusing to put our money where our mouth is. At such a critical age of our children’s development, children are being sold short. Many of our labouring teachers need to find another form of employment to supplement their roles simply because they can’t make ends meet. Not to mention the sheer exhaustion that comes with the job. Imagine after finishing a 9-5 shift, that you then had to teach in the evening for a few more hours. Oh, and don’t forget the small matter of their family time being sacrificed to teach our children. It’s no wonder some of our most talented graduates are pursuing alternative routes. Can you blame them?

Anyone who comes from a teaching background will appreciate the demands of this role; the sheer amount of planning and preparation that is required to deliver an engaging and wholesome lesson. If our teachers, dedicated and fatigued as they are, are struggling, one can only imagine how this is going to ‘trickle down’ to our childrens education. In a time where our institutions have been placed in a central role in securing the future of our faith, we are failing. If our wallets are more important to us than the future of our children, then we’ve forfeited the right to demand anything from our institutions.

I’m not advocating for huge salaries. What I am advocating for is justice and equality. Many of us would certainly shiver at the idea of being paid wages equivalent to what some of our teachers (and Imāms) are being paid. Such is the hyprocisy.

Its time we valued people, not just bricks and mortar. Our Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) worked on the hearts of people. He wasn’t really interested in fleeting structures.

And only Allāh knows best.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Despite my reading and writing commitments, I have managed to ‘flick channels’ and read The Reluctant Fundamentalist. For those of you who haven’t read it yet, I won’t spoil it for you. Well, not too much.

The janissaries of the Ottoman empire captured Christian boys trained to fight against their own people, which they did with singular ferocity. This interesting class of warrior is described during a business lunch to Changez, the young hero of Mohsin Hamid’s second novel, at a moment of crisis over his own identity. Born in Pakistan, educated at Princeton and currently the hottest new employee at a New York firm specialising in ruthless appraisals of ailing companies being targeted for takeover, Changez recognises himself in the description. “I was a modern-day janissary,” he observes, “a servant of the American empire at a time when it was invading a country with a kinship to mine …”

The recognition completes a process of inward transformation that began when he realised he was half-gladdened by the World Trade Center attacks, and it now prompts him to sabotage his own high-flying career, to give up his pursuit of the beautiful, troubled Wasp princess Erica and go back to Lahore. There, bearded and generally reacculturated, he meets an American in a restaurant in the Old Anarkali district, and buttonholes him with his life story. The novel is his monologue: a quietly told, cleverly constructed fable of infatuation and disenchantment with America, set on the treacherous faultlines of current east/west relations, and finely tuned to the ironies of mutual – but especially American – prejudice and misrepresentation.

I’ll let you uncover the rest. The Reluctant Fundamentalist has a genuinely provocative nature, and it remains, at the very least, an intelligent, highly engaging piece of work.

Civilization on Trial – ‘Islam, the West, and the Future’

Civilization on Trial – ‘Islam, the West, and the Future’

This book is a collection of essays written in the late 1940’s collected together, so there is no unifying theme. But Toynbee shows himself at the top of his game. For those without the time or desire to read his larger works, this is a good place to get Toynbee in protein bar form. Here we have his classic ‘Islam, the West, and the Future’.

Despite the claim made by critics that his conclusions were those of a Christian moralist rather than of a historian, there is an interesting discussion in the essay of two principles in Islam that could be of benefit to society; one psychological and the other material. In his own words “…In the present relations of this cosmopolitan proletariat with the dominant element in our modern Western society are race consciousness and alcohol; and in the struggle with each of these evils the Islamic spirit has a service to render which might prove, if it were accepted, to be of high moral and social value” (pg. 205).