Can Citizens of Muslim Societies ever be Free? A critical analysis of M.J.Thompson’s Islam, Rights and Ethical Life

Malick Elias

Micheal J. Thompson, in his ‘Islam, Rights, and Ethical Life: The problem of Political Modernity in the Muslim World’ (Theoria: vol.57, ps.100-125, 2011) identified two broad theories which he states seeks to explain the lack of political modernity in Arab Islamic societies. First, there is the economic development approach which argues that the lack of it in Arab Islamic societies has prevented the domain of civil society from forming providing no opposition to authoritarian institutions (Zubaida 1992, 2001a; Bellin 1994a; Anderson 1995; Ibrahim 2002) The second explanation is that the value system of Islam as a religion is ‘anathema’ to modern forms of politics, thereby shaping non democratic and even authoritarian institutions. (Fish 2002; Barakat 1993; Korany 1994; Zakaria 2003). Thompson explains that both of these theories taken on their own are ‘inadequate’ and set about exploring ‘modernity’ in a different way, to offer an alternative explanation of Islam’s relationship with political modernity. It is important to note here that the real question that Thompson is exploring here is Islam’s relationship with Democracy. To what extent does Democracy represent ‘Political Modernity’ or ‘Modernity’ in the realm of politics is the sum of a form of ‘Democracy’ are questions needed to be explored in themselves. Continue reading Can Citizens of Muslim Societies ever be Free? A critical analysis of M.J.Thompson’s Islam, Rights and Ethical Life

Planning Research and Critical Thinking Methods into Curriculum Delivery

Islamic Pedagogy Series 1

How do we teach our children to think, analyse and deconstruct information? Islamic Education must mean a set of research and critical thinking tools, which are based upon Islamic epistemology or Islamic Theory of Knowledge.
This is the time of the year for reviewing how well or not so well we have delivered our trust (Amaanah) as Educationists. Teaching children banks of information from curriculum resources – books, dvds, cds, etc – will be of little use if they cannot formulate judgements, problem solve and make decisions that please Allah or in the least subscribe to a criteria of ‘Islamic Rationality.’ To some this may seem oxymoronic, since ‘Rationality’ derives from a positivist approach to knowledge and Islam the antitheses of all forms of knowledge having no basis in ‘Revelation.’ But who says that Islam is not rational or that the act of being rational has to exclude goodness or Godliness?
Consider the following questions and self evaluate whether you have enabled your learners to do the following:-

1- To understand the key Arabic terms which define the Islamic concepts they are studying
2- To reference the Holy Quran for their key canons of faith and practice, making sure they develop the habit of firstly seeking the view of Revelation before embarking upon their analysis
3- To reference the sayings, actions or acknowledgements from the life of Prophet Muhammad for any of the topics under study and to understand the difference between a command and a recommendation
4- To use their Arabic language skills to be able to read and write those verses and hadith traditions in Arabic so they begin to see to the importance of the Arabic language to Islamic Studies
5- To be able to think critically upon a range of scholarly views on a single verse or hadith tradition and the different thinking methods involved in deducing opinions, so rather than teaching them what scholars have said, they analyse the reasons and sources behind their opinions and how they came to their point of views
6- And to develop the skills to evaluate complex issues using the five canons of Islamic legal thinking: Compulsory, Forbidden, Encouraged, Disliked and Optional; and the conditions under which actions or non-actions can be thus classified?

This list can be extended, but the aforementioned are the most basis skills we should focus upon when attempting to impart to our children an “Islamic Research Methodology.” If we missed this opportunity this academic year, there is always next year.

Malick Elias

Seeking the Islamic in Islamic Education

Education Theory Review

The attached article: “The Islamic in Islamic Education, Evaluating the Discourse” by Farid Panjwani is both thought provoking in parts, while at the same time a critique of the writer’s failure to transcend Contextualism and unwittingly subjugating himself to Existentialism. 

Panjwani began by critiquing perceived approaches of the illusive adjectival coinage: ‘Islamic Education.’ He challenged Muslim intellectuals who saw ‘Islamic Education,’ a divinely ordained system, as a replacement to man-made Western Education, which was perceived as degenerated and without values. He argued that those who held this approach, plausible in parts, based their critique exclusively upon Western sources which showed that the concerns about the decline in educational standards are the concerns of all, both Muslim and non-Muslim, and with reference to all societies not just in the West.
He also identified an apologist approach towards Islamic Education, by some writers who idealised the glorious age of Islam. They, he argued reflected backwardly to project forward along with Western achievements in science and technology the achievements of Muslims from the history of Islam.
He suggests a way forward. Firstly, an approach that compliments Islam as an ideal in the role of human agency in interpreting these ideals. ‘In other words there was a need to shift from ‘Islamic’ history to the history of Muslims’ – though, he admits that that approach can only be an ‘initial’ step and ‘not be sufficient for a thorough revision of the discourse.’ (p.6)
This suggestion is thought provoking because it can represent a dynamic paradigm shift in research methodology, which focuses upon how Islamic concepts, ideals and even institutions are interpreted and contextualised by Muslims rather than a search for the metaphysical or theoretical in ‘Islamic’ in Education. As he puts it: ‘If the question posed is, ‘What is the Islamic concept of knowledge?’ it can easily push one to seek a unified, unhistorical concept of knowledge in a unified, unhistorical notion of Islam.’ Further adding: ‘If the question is, How have Muslims understood knowledge?’ then we are likely to search for context-based answers that would show that since their earliest history, Muslims have had a healthy diversity of views with regard to this important epistemological issue.’ (p.8)
Now, although these arguments are compelling, I feel that the author is making a case for unrepresented voices, cultures and sects which are not heard within mainstream Islam. These statements might be seen as harsh and I may be accused of reading too much into the University ‘The Aga Khan University’ to which he belongs. However, it would be wrong to judge anyone on the basis of their intellectual inclinations. Yes, we know that the ‘Islamic’ in Education is a particular narrative or discourse on the world. We also know that the concept of ‘Tawheed’ (The Unity of God) superimposes itself upon Islamic thought and thinking. To me that means the highest ideals of ‘Justice’ to others it may mean something else. This is an epistemological deduction, which a century of Islamic scholarship have deduced from the Holy Quran – the Quran is the primary source of knowledge in Islam. How that is understood and made manifest by a host of Muslim cultures and peoples are valid questions and so I can agree that there can exist a range of  Islamic (or Muslim) conceptions of Education. The definitive question is, however, to what purpose is Islamic Education? To me the answer is clear: Restoring the balance between God in connection to human agency. That is manifested through social imagination of Believers in Islam of the meaning of Justice, Tawheed, and not anthropology. To what extent do Muslims behave justly, I guess that’s Panjwani point.

Click link to read copy of original article:

Malick Elias

No more homework!

Pedagogy Series 1


It is about time that schools got rid of the obsession with homework. Now, now, we all know that they focus upon issuing homework because parents complain that their children are not getting any- a move by most parents to keep their children busy at home or removing the guilt of not spending enough quality family learning time with their children. You know, like, teaching them social interaction skills through spending time talking with their children, engaging with them in sport and extracurricular activities or merely having dinner and a chat at the table with them. Now, I think that I will be looking up the idea behind ‘paralel learning’. Based upon what I read in this article, I think I will be including it into my planning. In fact, I was already thinking along these lines. Not so much the exclusion of homework, which I will build a case for and argue it with my colleagues; but the idea of delivering an introductory lecture at the start of a new theme or term or topic under study and drawing attention to the questions and issues therein and assign to students a range of collaborative and individual tasks which will involve them researching the material themselves and completing a project assignment. It is possible as in the case mentioned in this article, to include a range of questions related to the issues studied for pupils to answer, perhaps in a piece of report writing, rather than a tedious comprehension-type questionnaire.
However, I do think that homework is overrated unless it involves children working collaboratively on a project over a length of time, that way you know that they are involved in genuine extra curricular learning. On the condition that they can report back to the class on the learning process through an essay or video file.
For Islamic Education, it is time that schools encourage children to keep and manage their individual learning portfolios as evidence of them having learnt and this can be counted as part of their end of term assessment or examination. Homework and written examinations which seek from students to recall information are tools from the past and have little remaining justification in a highly socially connected and technological world. Don’t you agree?

School opening surprise: No more homework

Malick Elias

Follow up: What is Islamic Education?

Assalamu ‘Alaykum, now and always,

Going through the list of videos programmed to show up on this blog, I am recommending the best I have viewed so far, which highlights sentiments of my earlier article: What is and What is Not Islamic Education. 
Take the time and study this lecture and I recommend its showing to Senior school Islamic Education students at the start of the new academic year. 
Good viewing.