Integrating all knowledge to deal with our mission(s) in life
By Md. Mahmudul Hasan and Boshra Zawawi
The deepening crisis in education is the root cause of many other problems and felt across religious, national, and racial divides. Harry Lewis’ “Excellence Without A Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education” (2006) states, “Society is going to hell in a handbasket, and the great universities are going to get there first.” Roughly a decade earlier, the late Taha Jabir al Alwani’s “The Islamization of Knowledge: Yesterday and Today” (1995), said, “By virtue of our submission to Western intellectual, cultural, and institutional influences and the impact that these have had on our lives, we are now full partners in the worldwide crisis.”
As president of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), headquartered in Herndon, Va., he and his team advocated intellectual revival and reforming education by promoting the integration of moral and religious (Islamic) elements in education and pedagogy.
One of the institute’s educational reform efforts is directed to integrating knowledge, which involves complementarity between moral and material aspects of education and between religious and scientific epistemes in various disciplines.
The institute’s Integration of Knowledge Summer Program 2023, held from July 24 to Aug. 12, opened with inaugural speeches by Hisham Altalib (president, IIIT) and Ahmed Alwani (vice president, IIIT). Altalib gave a brief history of the journey of the knowledge movement and of the idea of establishing an intellectual institution — IIIT.
Students were then familiarized with the instructors, program goals and expectations, IIIT publications and journals and the onsite facilities, including the al-Alwani and al-Faruqi reference libraries. Both have been featured on the Religious Collections of the Library of Congress.
Zainab Alwani (Howard University) was the subject matter expert and lead instructor. Other instructors were Ahmed Ali Salem (Zayed University, UAE) and Md. Mahmudul Hasan (International Islamic University Malaysia). The three-week program was designed collaboratively by Boshra Zawawi (senior instructional designer, Fairfax University of America [FXUA]) and Maimoona Al-Abri (Sultan Qaboos University, Oman), and guided with content feedback from Alwani. Wafia Alchurbaji (project manager, FXUA) was in charge of coordination and logistical support.
Acclaimed Speaker Lineup
In addition to weekday sessions, on Saturdays the students listened to prominent U.S.-based public intellectuals and scholars of contemporary Islamic thought, among them Ingrid Mattson, Imam Suhaib Webb, and Imam Mohamed Magid. They also visited places of educational and historical interest, as well as guided tours and other monuments of political, cultural and historical importance, located in Washington, D.C.
IIIT summer programs are generally designed for (active) graduate students who wish to become better acquainted with various debates involving Islam, Muslims and the modern world. Participants interacted with the instructors and peers both as individual and group learners. A notable by-product of such programs is for the participants to establish friendships and network ties with people of diverse backgrounds. Doing so has the potential to benefit them far beyond this short program’s span.
For many students, this program was transformational in terms of understanding the purpose of their life on Earth as divine vicegerents, discovering and shaping their worldviews, connecting with revealed sources and cleansing their hearts by faith.
The summer program included a small cohort of 11 students who met daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. to learn about the integration of knowledge methodology that allowed them to analyze contemporary issues in the light of Quranic principles.
The students began a transformational journey that started with their hearts and the importance of purifying them continuously to build a solid relationship with the Quran. The journey continued as they learned about how to contemplate it in a more purposeful manner and how to use the sunna as the highest example of applying the Quran. It was stressed that practices of the Prophet and his Companions help guide the interpretation of Quranic verses.
The students developed a coherent understanding of the maqasid al-qur’aniyyah (Qur’anic principles or objectives), which gave them a lens to assess and evaluate humanity’s intellectual heritage. The program helped them connect deeply with the Quran by approaching it with questions that seek to identify the root causes of real-life problems. Instead of relying on one source to understand specific Quranic verses, the students learned to use multiple translations that relate different perspectives to expand their thinking and broaden their views.
The students often started their days with a beautiful Quran recitation that lifted their emotional state and opened their hearts to receive new knowledge. They constantly reflected on their journey, their desire to stay connected, how exceptional it was, their surprise about how much they were learning, and their wish to offer such programs to Muslim youth to help them develop personally, intellectually and spiritually.
They left the program convinced that Islam allows them to produce, confirm and/or question for the sake of learning and truth-seeking.
Md. Mahmudul Hasan is a professor of English and postcolonial literature at the International Islamic University Malaysia. Boshra Zawawi is a senior instructional designer and guest lecturer at the Fairfax University of America.