Saturday, 12 September 2009

Revitalising Islamization (or Islamicization)

Discussions on Islamization of knowledge (IOK) have been revitalised in the last few months. Both the Kulliyyah of Economics and the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge & Human Sciences have held several forums on the issue since early this year. Yesterday, a session was held at the Kulliyyah of Economics and the presenter for the day was Tan Sri Professor Dr. Mohd Kamal Hassan, a former Rector of the university who has been with IIUM since its inception in 1983.

Much of Kamal Hassan's presentation yesterday focused on issues often discussed in previous IOK talks I've attended over the years. These were namely the historical and philosophical background of the IOK project, the rationale behind IOK and a brief survey of the different IOK perspectives. An interesting and unique point however was made when he addressed an issue that cropped up towards the end of his tenure as Rector of the university: his personal preference for the term 'Islamicization' instead of 'Islamization'.

Several reasons were given and all these were highlighted in his paper which was distributed to members of the audience. The first was in support of the views of the late Professor Muhammad Hamidullah who said the term 'Islamization' is often understood in the context of religious conversion and proselytisation. This therefore may create some misunderstanding among Muslims and instill unnecessary anxieties among non-Muslims.

The strongest reason given is explained in the paragraph below:

"...while "Islamisation" conveys the idea of having to embrace Islamic theology or ontology or axiology or eschatology or epistemology as the case may be, the term "Islamicization" includes the idea that something is "acceptable by Islamic values, norms, standards or criteria", or something is "in harmony with the values and perspectives of Islam", such as the ideas or practices of good governance, excellence, professional competency, integrity, goodness, beauty, efficiency, punctuality, beneficence, best practices, harmless innovations or better ways of doing things, as long as those ideas, practices or institutions - many of which could also be found in non-Muslim personalities, organisations, cultures or countries - that do not conflict with the belief system, the law and ethics of Islam."

For me personally, although I am in agreement with all the points above, I would still prefer to stick with the term 'Islamization'. 'Islamization' is without doubt often understood to refer to religious conversion (especially in the study of history), but I believe can be argued today to have integrated the scope and meaning of "Islamicization" detailed in the above paragraph. On a more lighter note, the word "Islamicization" is quite a mouthful to pronounce. Many have struggled to pronounce it and that cannot be good if indeed we want people to talk and discuss about it more. The struggle to just get the pronunciation correct may put many people off.

Towards the end of his presentation, Kamal Hassan expressed his concern on the future of IOK at the university. IOK, or to be exact "Islamization of Human Knowledge" is IIUM's niche area "enshrined in the university's constitution as an important component of its sacred mission... As such it must remain as the core concern of the university which should never be marginalised or peripheralised."

I'm not sure whether Kamal Hassan was merely expressing a personal view, or was it in reaction to certain current developments at the university or the changing scenario in Malaysian politics. Whichever, I managed to put out a question on how we should respond to the argument that Islamization is a threat to nation-building and national integration in the context of multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia. Kamal Hassan's answer dwelled more on a futuristic premise that nation-states will someday become obsolete but he did express his hope that future Malay-Muslim leaders in the country would see themselves as Muslims first, hence put priority on Islamic values and principles while governing the country. That is in fact the whole issue that requires some serious discussion for I know for sure it is an issue that many non-Muslims as well as Muslims liberals in Malaysia are currently questioning.

The talk was definitely a fruitful one. Future sessions are already in the pipeline and I am looking forward to attend them.

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