Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
Recently, University of Notre Dame of Indiana, USA has introduced an extensive program “Madrasa Discourses” aimed at advancing scientific and theological literacy among the Madrasa graduates. This program for capacity-building and academic engagement is a part of the “Contending Modernities” initiative.
An introductory session of this program was held on Jan 7, 2017, at Don Bosco Provincial School/Technical Institute, near Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. This informative program was most particularly focused on the modalities of reconciliation between the traditional Islamic thoughts with contemporary scientific and philosophical worldviews.
The three-year online course will primarily consist of four parts: Ilmul Kalam (Islamic scholastic theology), Islamic jurisprudence (Ilm-ul-Fiqh), Muslim history (al-Tarikh al-Islami) and an objective study of different branches of the classical and modern Islamic theology. A certain amount of emphasis will also be laid on the English and Arabic language ability in writing.
A well-versed team of three eminent Islamic scholars—who are also madrasa graduates—has been formed to run this long-term course:
(1) Dr. Ebrahim Moosa, a Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Notre Dame with appointments in the Department of History and the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in the Keough School of Global Affairs. Dr. Moosa was trained in both traditional (orthodox) Islamic institutions in India and in the modern academy specialising in the study of religion at the University of Cape Town. He earned his ʿalimiyya degree specialising in Islamic Studies and Arabic Studies (1981) from Darul Uloom Nadwatul ʿUlama, one of India’s foremost Islamic seminaries in the city of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
(2) Dr. Mahan Mirza, a Professor of the Practice in the Contending Modernities program at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, has spent several years working with religious groups around issues of social justice. He earned an MA from Hartford Seminary in the study of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations and a PhD from Yale University’s program in religious studies and studied Islam from a diverse set of perspectives. Dr. Mirza worked on Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, a scientist from the 11th century, focusing on his intellectual framework of inquiry of. He also contributed to the establishment of Zaytuna College, the first Muslim liberal arts college to be accredited in the United States, serving as the college’s Dean of Faculty from 2013-2016.
(3) Dr. Waris Mazhari, a graduate of Uloom Deoband and presently a lecturer at the Department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, in New Delhi, has been, for the past fifteen years, working as an editor of the Urdu monthly journal Tarjuman-e- Darul Uloom. He also served as Research Associate for Virtual Dialogues, an initiative at Duke University in North Carolina, USA. A prolific writer with countless articles and multiple books under his name, his chief interests are in the areas of interfaith dialogue, peace and social harmony, the reconstruction of religious thought in Islam, and reform in Indian madrasas.
Starting with an introduction to the course and its chief coordinators, Dr.Waris Mazhari, the lead faculty and teacher at the Department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, said:
“The program offers a potentially transformative 3-year educational experience with far-reaching consequences. It will provide the tools, experiences, and intellectual resources to appreciate the virtues of a cosmopolitan outlook consistent with the highest Islamic ideals and in tune with the social and political imperatives of peaceful coexistence in a multifaith and multicultural world”. “As future leaders and scholars, these graduates will be equipped to deal with the challenges of a rapidly globalising world in the information and digital age”, he said.
Elaborating the key concept behind the Madrasa Discourses program, Professor Ebrahim Moosa of Islamic Studies, University of Notre Dame, said that the project proposes a conciliation of traditional Islamic thought with contemporary scientific and philosophical worldviews that can result in orthodox affirmations of human dignity that are essential for peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic world. “This will be accomplished through an educational curriculum that enables traditional Muslim scholars and ulama in India to update their tradition by deepening their theological and scientific literacy”, he said.
Professor Moosa also informed that the course is aimed at engaging over one hundred madrasa graduates and religious leaders, and that it will provide globally accessible educational modules. “The program is envisioned as a modest step in the effort to revitalise the intellectual culture of Muslim societies”, he averred.
Professor Mahan Mirza of Notre Dame University, who is also a Lead Faculty of the program, participated in the introductory workshop through Skype. He underlined the imaginative ways of thinking about religion, theology, science, philosophy, faith and values, while stressing the need for constant revitalization and renewal in the Islamic theology (tajdeed fil deen). “Madrasa graduates and young Islamic theologians will be exposed to exercises in critical thinking and the construction of new knowledge in the service of their societies and communities. Upgrading the capacity of these Madrasa-trained theologians will have a multiplier effect on millions of India’s Muslim population and beyond. As advocates of theological literacy that values human dignity the next generation of Muslim leaders can confidently engage the world with faith and shared-values across cultures and traditions. The transformative impact they will have is a long-term goal of the project”, he said.
A select group of thirty recent madrasa graduates will be enrolled in the course in the spring and summer of 2017. Only students who will qualify the test and interview will be eligible for admission into the course.
It cannot be denied that the ulama or the classical Islamic scholars are still looked up as resource persons in everyday practical Muslim life around the world. Therefore, empowering and equipping them with the modern-age skills of sophistication will greatly help the larger Muslim society usher in an enlightened religious, social and cultural worldview.
Scores of preeminent Islamic intellectuals have greatly benefited from their madrasa background in making headway in their academic life. Consequently, a considerable number of Muslim parents get their children enrolled in madrasas despite the unfavourable perception towards the madrasa education and its relevance in the contemporary age.
However, evolving a progressive, pluralistic and accommodative Islamic theology to enable the traditional classical Islamic scholars (ulama) to revitalise their traditions is a long overdue. Given this, Madrasa Discourses will certainly help the madrasas’ thought leaders deepen their worldview incorporating the progressive religious insights and scientific trends in the light of established Islamic ethos.
Author is a Madrasa graduate, classical Islamic scholar and Arabic-Urdu writer and translator.