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On the secularization of Islamic institutions. Local projects and translocal impact in the Islamic world

Saeed Ur Rehman
Farish Noor
S. M. Faizan Ahmed

Case studies of institutions, concepts and projects that reflect the changing character of Islamic educational institutions are the focus of the intended research. Subproject 1 (S. Rehman) looks at training institutes for young Islamic graduate scholars in India, and at private secondary schools with a mixed religious and secular curriculum in Pakistan; subproject 2 (F. Noor) will focus on the International Islamic University in Malaysia and three state Islamic universities in Indonesia. In view of the growing internal and external political pressure on state and private actors to open up and modernize religious institutions and projects, these activities acquire priority and urgency. At the same time, they respond to the ambition of socially conservative strata in the fast-growing and highly heterogeneous middle classes. They wish to gain access to modern education and effective political participation in consonance with “authentic” religious knowledge and political legitimation. In an attempt to bridge the gap between religious and secular education, religious scholars and politicians cooperate with secular Muslims in these projects, and frequently combine development concerns with social objectives and missionary aims.
Research will be guided by a multidisciplinary translocal perspective focusing on discourses, institutions and actors. It seeks to understand the impact of such reforms on education and politics in the countries concerned; their chances of success; the nature of the education acquired in these new institutions; and the character of the religious and secular politics behind these developments. The project follows up on the preceding research on “Transcultural transfer of Islamic knowledge”, which primarily looked at the actors (students, graduates, teaching staff) and their implementation of Islamic normative concepts in diverse cultural contexts.

Subproject 1

Bridging the gap. Blending Islamic and secular education in new school projects in India and Pakistan

Saeed Ur Rehman

The subproject studies the fusion of Islamic and secular education in selected educational institutions. The Markaz al-Ma´ārif foundation (Centre of Knowledge) and its various training institutes will be studied in India. They not only teach computer applications and English, but also discuss current social and political issues in a religious context. The ‘Iqra‘ Rawdat al-Atfāl (School for Knowledge Transfer) foundation, which runs secondary schools, will be the focus of study in Pakistan. Here children undergo training in memorising and reciting the Qur’an (hāfiz), as well as secondary education for intermediate level based on the state curriculum.
The research concentrates primarily on concepts, actors and institutions and their interconnections in local and translocal networks in South Asia and other Islamic countries. It aims at understanding the consequences of such an opening of Islamic institutions for the interpretation of Islam and the shaping of a graduate identity as Muslims in a secular social context.
References to common discourses as well as institutional and personal connections will be looked into as a means of comparing the educational projects. In addition, local roots and the cultural disjunctions that come with this broken modernity will be explored.

Subproject 2

The Reform of Islamic education in Malaysia and Indonesia. The Struggle for modernisation, contestation of power and politicization of knowledge in Malaysia and Indonesia

Farish Noor

The focus of this project is on current developments within the sphere of Islamic education in Malaysia and Indonesia. Its practical, objective focus will be on the process and systems of institutional reform, with the debate on what constitutes a modern form of Islamic education in both countries, which takes place via the ‘opening up’ of Islamic education to other disciplines such as the humanities and natural sciences, as its theoretical focus. While the educational reform process itself can be analysed in terms of a secularisation process, its proponents in Malaysia and Indonesia maintain that their brand of ‘Modern/ist Islam’ is a search for a Modern Islam that is nonetheless ‘authentic’ and distanced from ‘Western Secularism’. It is this analytical paradox and its political implications that are the subject of our research, as we attempt to understand this new form of ‘Islamic Modernity’ as one variant of the ‘multiple Modernities’ that are emerging in the world today.
The project will look at the process of Islamic educational reform in two Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia and Indonesia. It will examine how the reform of higher (university level) Islamic education is meant to have a spillover effect on other lower-level Islamic educational institutions, and how the reform processes in these countries have been affected by both internal and external variables.
The project also aims to analyse how the process of reform is being shaped and guided by the creation of a global, transnational network of Islamic educational institutions and academicians/scholars; how both local and foreign actors and agents have come on the scene and are now competing to impose their brand of Islamic modernity and reform; how this modernisation process has itself led to a counter-reaction among local Islamic educational institutions and educationists, and how the debate on the question of Islamic modernity is being managed in these countries.

Subproject 3

Negotiating epistemologies and their challenging forces A study of Modernization of Madrasas in India

S. M.Faizan Ahmed

Religion is an integral as well as one of the oldest institutions in human existence. It has served many purposes in judging what is good and what is evil. Modernity defines itself by distancing from religion – something that is not so encompassing a worldview that can any longer be considered as legitimate source of authority in resolving the issues of this world, except in theological matters. Several attempts on contesting such a paradigm of knowledge has been on its march along with those that want to incorporate (or appropriate) its other.  Modernization of Madrasas in India is a case in point that leads us in understanding the ways through which this contestation and incorporation (or appropriation) can be examined to elaborate the present crisis.
The project, at first, intends to outline different existing forms of Madrasas in India and classify them accordingly on the basis of content and structure of syllabus, its nature of functioning and orientation. It will explore the Madrasas that refuse to accept any modernization proposal; Madrasas run by the Government or affiliated to Government board; and Madrasas that are offering modern syllabus or vocational courses along with theological learning. The purpose of this study is whether ‘fusion’ or ‘modernization’ is helpful for Madrasa students in bringing them to the national mainstream, or they get lured to it only because they think such knowledge is essential for their survival. Another research question that will be pursued during the course of study is ‘does ‘fusion’ or ‘modernization’ effect their sense of judgment’ about issues of this world? And lastly, where lies the scope of the meeting ground between Secular and Islamic?