Friday, 27 June 2008

Whither Islamization of Knowledge?

Last month, I had the honour of attending an event graced by two former Rectors of the International Islamic University Malaysia - Professor (Dato') Dr. Abdul Hamid AbuSulayman, and (Tan Sri) Professsor Dr. Muhammad Kamal Hassan. As a former student, and now academic member of the university, hearing the words of wisdom from both of these monumental figures in the history of the university brought back many sweet memories, but unfortunately also provoked many regretful critical inquiries.

After going through the psychologically torturing period of identity vs. identity confusion, it was during my undergraduate studies at IIUM that I believe I found myself. Prior to that, I was constantly searching for the right composite of idealism to be embraced, knowing not what is worth striving for, and ignorant of what is profound and mundane.

What had truly facilitate the process was my introduction to the debate on Islamization of knowledge (IOK). Reading the writings of Muslim intellectual giants such as Al-Faruqi, Al-Attas, Fazlur Rahman, Mawdudi, Hossein Nasr etc had altered significantly my perception of life's challenges and crystallised my views on what one's life is worth dedicating to.

Knowledge is the key, and to Islamise it is the mechanism to bring the Muslim ummah back to the path of glory and far away from the threat of destitution. IOK is the process to de-Westernise knowledge, to revive the heritage of Muslim scholarship, to harmonise revealed knowledge and modern sciences, to free the Muslim minds from mental colonisation... all these and many more.

Many students of IIUM of my generation were captivated by all these ideas. We were 'brainwashed' of course through the many debates, talks and seminars on different spectrums of IOK. Not satisfied with the events organised by the university, some of us even got together to organise our own forum - IOKY (Islamization of Knowledge Youth Club). We were an underground club (I don't think it was ever registered under STADD) yet in our bi-monthly sessions on Friday nights at ECONS 1.5, guest speakers who had graced our meetings include both brother Rectors, Professor AbuSulayman and Professor Kamal Hassan, Dr. Sano Koutoub (now Professor and Deputy Rector of IIUM), Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas (former Director of ISTAC), Professor Hashim Kamali (former Dean of ISTAC), Dr. Ibrahim Zein (now Professor and Dean of ISTAC), Dr. Louay Safi (now Executive Director of ISNA), Dr. Hazizan Mohd Noon (now Dean of the Kulliyyah of IRKHS), and Dr. Abdul Aziz Berghout (now Professor and Director of CCAC)

I can still see the enthusiastic faces of my dear brothers Marwan Altalib, Mustafa Kamal, Adli Abdul Wahid, Hassan Gonzales, Zaid Assagoff, Mahfuth Khamis, Brima Sylla and many others who regularly attended the sessions. One can see it in their eyes that they were all deeply passionate about IOK regardless of which IOK orientation they believe in or which scholar whose view they most respected.

What is IOK now to IIUM students? I have been an academic member at the university for more than four years now and what I have seen during this time is indeed very worrying. Yes, Islamization is now officially part of the philosophy of IIUM, embedded in the catchy term Triple I-CE (Integration, Islamization, Internationalization and Comprehensive Excellence). And I am quite certain a great majority of current IIUM students would be able to recall this having been compelled to memorise it during Ta'aruf Week.

But beyond recalling the term, is there anything substantial? Are they curious of the history of the development of IOK? Have they even heard about (let alone read) books such as 'Islam and Secularism' and 'Crisis in the Muslim Minds'? Do they know who are the pioneers of IOK? Have they even heard the name Al-Faruqi and Al-Attas before?

All I can say is, whenever I talk about IOK in any of my classes, the number of blank faces that I see staring at me is just truly, truly depressing.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Base cabinet positions on merit

(letter published in / Jun 25, 08 4:42 pm)

I refer to the Malaysiakini report Shadow cabinet: Possible PAS ministers.

While the reports indeed provided some interesting thoughts on cabinet ministers ‘in-waiting’, I believe a Pakatan Rakyat government should offer an approach in governance that is markedly different from the existing Barisan Nasional government.

Firstly, although the size of the cabinet has been reduced after the last general election from 32 to 27 seats, the size can and should be further reduced. Under the PR government, more ministries should be merged and the number of ministerial positions reduced to only about 20 seats.

Secondly, on the traditional approach of appointing personnel based on seniority, the PR government should look more at academic qualification and relevant professional experience instead. Tony Pua (DAP) for example, although a first time member of Parliament, should be seriously considered for the portfolio of International Trade.

Likewise, the young professionals in PAS like Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad and Dr Hatta Ramli should be seen as more suitable candidates for cabinet positions than others from the party.

Ministerial positions should not be perceived as just ‘rewards’ for senior members of political parties. They should be handed to the people deemed most capable to head a particular ministry. The PR government should have ministers who are ‘hands-on’ in their approach, who understand the detailed operations of their respective ministries.

Members of Parliament without cabinet positions can also contribute in ensuring effective governance through their involvement in the various parliamentary committees. These committees should be given full authority to evaluate decisions made by the government and freedom to access all official documents. The committees should also be given the power to summon any minister for a hearing whenever necessary.

Finally, on the distribution of cabinet positions among PR component parties, ideally, this should not be an important matter. Cabinet appointments should be made entirely based on merit.

Nonetheless, I do realise that this may not be possible for the time being but I do hope that a time will come in the near future where this, as well the issue of racial composition of cabinet members, would no longer be of great concern for the people of this nation.