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Transcultural transfer of Islamic knowledge: The instruction of foreigners at Islamic schools in South Asia and its impact on their countries of origin

Applying the perspective of transcultural mediation, the project seeks to chart the dissemination of religious knowledge at higher Islamic schools in South Asia to foreign students, the application of this knowledge by the graduates in their countries of origin, and its impact on the interpretation and understanding of Islam. The increasing networking between different parts of the Islamic ‘periphery’ and growing cross-border interaction between Muslims of different cultural and national origin are at the centre of the research. The project highlights ‘South-South cooperation’ between Muslims not belonging to the traditional heartlands of Islam, which has so far received little attention in academic research. It intends to contribute to understanding the dynamics of creating a translocal and transcultural space or ‘interstice’ where a specific religious, political and/or symbolic culture shaped by these graduates emerges. The project attempts to elucidate the divergences and disjunctions in the transcultural mediation process of the knowledge of Islam at the places of instruction and in the student and graduate countries of origin. These may include disparities between reformist Islam and other competing traditions of interpretation, between local and external influences, and between the different forms of applying acquired religious knowledge in the field of politics, ideology, culture or education.

project publications

Sub-project 1

On the Religious and Political Culture of "Peripheral" Pan-Islamism: The Instruction of Foreigners at the International Islamic University Islamabad (Pakistan) and at the Dar al-'ulum Deoband (India) (2004-2005)

Dr. Dietrich Reetz, modern historian and political scientist for South Asia

The project intends to explore and analyse the instruction of foreigners at reformist Islamic schools in South Asia, concentrating on students from Asia and Africa in terms of ‘South-South’ Pan-Islamism. It pursues the question of whether South Asia is becoming a new centre for the dissemination of religious knowledge in the Islamic world and how this role affects the interpretation and practice of Islam. In this, it focuses on two Islamic institutions of higher learning, the dar al-'ulum Deoband in north India, and the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan. Both are renowned for their regional and transnational standing. The inquiry concentrates on the specifics of instructing foreigners, the curriculum, conditions of study, and self-organization of foreign students, as well as the latter’s adaptation to the local environment and interaction with local Islamic traditions. It will seek to highlight the changes brought about by the presence of these foreigners, both in the schools and in the foreigners themselves. It will also reflect on the hermeneutical understanding of Islam as influenced by the instruction of foreigners and their presence (project webpage).

Transcultural change via education: The Islamic instruction of Malaysian and Indonesian students in India and Pakistan and the application of their knowledge in their home country (2003-2004)

Dr. Farish Noor, political scientist for Southeast Asia

The aim of the project is to study the process of education and the formation of transnational educational networks between Islamic educational establishments in Malaysia and Indonesia and their counterparts in South Asia (specifically India and Pakistan). The theoretical focus will be on the process of transcultural transfer of education. The intention is to look at how Islamic knowledge imparted at South Asian institutions is accepted, adapted and recontextualised by Malaysian and Indonesian students, and the subsequent impact on the local understandings of religion, politics and culture in their respective societies. The approach will combine both empirical analysis of institution and network formation as well as discursive analysis of the shifts and changes that take place within the discursive space of Islamic educational discourse. The aim is to assess the impact of such transcultural exchange on local socio-cultural and political settings and to analyse how and why these discursive shifts have taken place within the arena of Islamist educational and political discourses in Malaysia and Indonesia. Thus far, there has been a significant gap in the research done in this field as there is no updated comprehensive study on the transnational networks and linkages between Islamist educational networks in South Asia and Southeast Asia (project webpage).