The conference is a tribute to the late Professor Emeritus Dr. AbdulHamid AbuSulayman (1936-18 August 2021) intending to mark his life, academic output and intellectual legacy.
AbuSulayman was one of the most prominent contemporary scholars of the Muslim world. A deep thinker and visionary, his keen insights into societal problems and how to approach their solution reflected not only an impressive intellect invested in Muslim development, but a clarity of thought that left an indelible mark on the academic scene. His life, career and works will no doubt continue to inform future academic discussion and debate.
A scholar of exceptional dediction, AbuSulayman held a strong concern for the socio-economic decline of the Muslim world, contending that unless a correct diagnosis of the problem were made with efficient solutions put in place that stagnation would continue. He also understood that religion was a life-force, playing an essential role in the vital functioning of society, and if stultified in a ritualistic understanding of things rooted in age-old traditions (often of inappropriate relevance to modern times and challenges), then the short and long-term impact of this fossilization would be catastrophic.
In formulating his assessment, he never negated the work of others, studying historical reformist movements each based on whatever current, school, and individual intellectual, doctrinal and political orientation undergirded it, going back over a century, in particular to study their various attempts to diagnose the problem and reverse the decline. Nevertheless, in his opinion, that response to date has been poor, marked by confusion, disorganization and deficiency, specifically in comprehension of origins. His emphasis on the urgency for creating social change and reform via educational development remained a lifelong passion.
AbuSulayman was an intellectual and a pragmatist and this issue was to form a huge part of his life’s vision. What had caused this fundamental shift in the first place, how did a state of progress and development become reversed into one of decay and decline? And what were its symptoms and complications? In fact, according to him, in addressing the main challenges not only does little clarity of vision exist but there is even little or no consensus as to origins. To solve a problem, one has to understand it, and to do this it is important to distinguish root cause. In building up a correct picture of analysis, for AbdulHamid that root cause was the spiritual-intellectual crisis of the Muslim mind.
Ever the pragmatist and public servant AbuSulayman paid close attention to practical solutions. Exposing and interpreting origins as well as attendant challenges of the crisis whilst a valuable exercise on many levels, was for him never enough. He focused on their elimination. Thus, he presented theoretical and practical proposals to overcome the decline — or crisis/malaise as he termed it — both on the individual and societal levels, that is on the micro and the macro. AbuSulayman’s research in this and other areas, his ideas, academic writings, and administrative initiatives were visionary, contributing significantly to existing methodologies of thought, informing discourse, and developing and grounding various academic disciplines.
In testament to AbuSulayman’s profound intellectual legacy and attempt to revive the genius of the Muslim mind through academic discourse, as well as pay tribute to his intellectual, scientific and educational reform contributions, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) seeks to:
- Present the range of AbuSulayman’s contributions,
- Analyse the nature and depth of his ideas, and
- Discuss his pragmatic approach.
IIIT’s aim in doing so is to benefit scientists, researchers, and students of knowledge in the Muslim world in their efforts to promote progress and intellectual reform.
The field of education was a key element of AbuSulayman’s discourse. Enhancing this was essential, and he called consistently for greater educational awareness and the development of an action plan for educational reform which he viewed as the missing dimension in the Islamic cultural reform project. In pursuit of this objective, he promoted the reconstruction of Islamic research methods, and the establishment of a scale of priorities that would ensure achievement of three objectives:
- Provision of a sound Islamic education,
- Rebuilding policies and systems, and
- Achieving a requisite integration and sequencing of societal functioning.
Historical experience teaches that the kind of change which acts as a catalyst for pioneering cultural achievement is based on the integration of three pillars:
- A constructive doctrinal vision,
- Methodological and intellectual excellence, and
- A positive, emotionally and spiritually sound education.
What are the features of this state of educational reform on the individual, family, civil society, institutional, childrearing and education levels? How does the type of reform AbuSulayman advocates, manifest itself in his theories and academic, practical and administrative experiences? How would AbuSulayman have described a sound emotional and cognitive childhood education? How can the educational curriculum be employed to develop a scientific mindset and ability to think creatively?
AbuSulayman set out to analyze the makeup of what he considered the model Islamic character, examining the ways in which it forms, takes shapes and develops at various ages. He also called for an understanding of the structure and characteristics of society, holding that to import educational theories from elsewhere, is to in fact import modes of thinking and acting that do not take into account the cultural and societal peculiarities of the Muslim world – an utterly mistaken exercise as such ‘external’ theories fail to address the Muslim Ummah’s distinctive sources of strength and value. And he pointed to the serious potential and long-term harm of this ‘standardisation’ exercise of educational immitation of Western systems of higher education, which simplified what is essentially a complex issue, largely because the points of reference and premises between the two are entirely different. Thus, the Western model is derived from thinking and processes inherently antithetical to the values, aims and premises of the Muslim outlook and the Ummah. For the former these being secular and for the latter based on the principles of monotheism, human stewardship, accountability to God, the purposeful and moral nature of human existence, and integration of the material and spiritual dimensions. One cannot wholesale graft the one onto the other for there is a price to be paid.
So, what educational and cultural programs did AbuSulayman establish for Muslim psychological and emotional reconstruction, and liberation from the hegemony of the Western cognitive model? And how did he address the distortions that have impacted Muslim cultural and personal development and evolution?
AbuSulayman was keenly aware that at the heart of the intellectual project he sought to formulate and develop was the issue of values. Indeed, the Islamization of knowledge project accords values a place of highest prominence. Values (ethics) form one side of a triangle, whose other two sides are knowledge and existence, together providing the foundation for both a philosophy and overall vision. To reiterate, AbuSulayman progressively minded believed that the values which underlie Islamic thought and culture differ from those that underlie Western thought and culture. He held, further, that Western societies are experiencing a crisis of values, and that human existence is founded on a struggle between the law of light represented by spirit, principles, meanings and values on the one hand, and the law of the jungle represented by matter, passion and desires on the other. In seeking to address the crisis of values that faces Islamic thought, AbuSulayman urged his fellow Muslims to deal seriously with what he pointed to as the three crises of the Ummah:
- The crisis of reason and approach,
- The crisis of thought and culture, and
- The crisis of education and the inner life of human beings.
He also called for implementation of greater efforts to discern the causes that have prevented the Ummah from realising its values and the benevolent goals of its religion.
Thus, values are essential including in the academic discipline of education, yet in AbuSulayman’s view on what are they founded? How was the value system he upheld reflected in his academic and creative writings? How were his Islamic values manifested in the educational structures that he administered for a period of time? And how were the values governing his worldview and philosophy manifested in his thinking and production?
AbuSulayman was keenly aware of the importance of both methodological and intellectual reform, and his writings feature a constellation of terms that convey deep awareness of the stagnation that has long hung over the Ummah, shaping Muslim thinking in ways departing significantly from Qur’anic teachings. He thus set out to highlight a number of intellectual distortions: a) first, distortion of the Islamic cosmic vision, b) second, distortion represented by the transformation of Islamic thought into a mere theoretical or scholastic exercise that had no way of being tried and tested in the life of individuals and society. This situation led in turn to a loss of creativity, a reliance on imitation and mimicry, an increasingly atomistic view of the universe, and a preoccupation with outward appearances.
Furthermore, as a result of the one-sided nature of both religious and secular knowledge, and the absence of a broader, more cosmic view of life, the Muslims suffered from a failure to develop the social sciences. As for the third distortion to which AbuSulayman drew attention, this was the distortion of Islamic discourse due to a divorce between political and intellectual leadership. Indeed, the separation of the science of jurisprudence and its practical applications from the science of doctrine, the holistic, cosmic and civilized vision, and the social sciences that concern themselves with the human phenomenon in all its spheres is the soil in which stagnation, imitation and backwardness are born and flourish.
What is the Qur’anic understanding of the universal cosmic vision? What is the role of this vision in building the social sciences and humanities in conjunction with the Shariah sciences? What was AbuSulayman’s approach to dealing with the Islamic heritage and matters of worship and belief? And how did he address the intellectual distortions that had so diminished Muslim cultural achievements?
The cognitive systems, world visions and the philosophies of other nations and social systems, especially Greek philosophy, as well as Western thought and ways of relating to it, occupied a significant place in Professor AbuSulayman’s theories and intellectual and educational output, including many of the courses offered at IIUM.
What is the place of the Other (past and present) in the “Sulaymanian” vision in particular, and in the vision of the Islamization of knowledge school overall? How would he have described his approach to Western thought? What positive things did AbuSulayman have to say about the methods of Western social science? And how did he develop syllabi related to this matter?
AbuSulayman’s methodological framework was shaped by the practice of epistemological integration, which also formed part of his self-formation and philosophy of dealing with the Shariah sciences, social sciences and the humanities overall. Indeed, epistemological integration served as a disciplined, comprehensive, and analytical methodological reference point for all of AbuSulayman’s endeavors. As a proponent of epistemological integration, AbuSulayman believed firmly in the ultimate unity of all knowledge. Accordingly, he affirmed the link between the sources of knowledge (revelation and the world around us) and its tools (reason and the senses). Based on the comprehensive, unifying vision provided by the Shariah sciences, proponents of epistemological integration seek harmony between the social and human sciences on the one hand, and the structure of Muslim societies on the other, by saturating these sciences with the Islamic vision, and by making conscientious efforts to imbibe both the values and traditions of society and the wisdom provided by modern knowledge.
In AbuSulayman’s view, we cannot truly comprehend divine guidance and direction without first understanding the facts of creation and the universe. The goal of epistemological integration is to introduce modern social sciences into the intellectual practice of Islamic educational institutions; this is a necessary precondition for the emergence of social sciences with a truly Islamic stamp and origin.
What then, in AbuSulayman’s view, are the foundations of epistemological integration, and how was this integration expressed in his theoretical writings and his practices? Further, how did epistemological integration help to resolve the dilemma of dual-track education, with its deleterious effects on Muslim character, thought patterns and lifestyles?
AbuSulayman concerned himself with educational reform, being interested in public education generally, and university education in particular. As such, he focused on identifying the ills that afflict the university educational system. Not only did he advocate university education based on the principle of epistemological integration and the unity of knowledge, but he put this idea into practice in the context of IIUM, where he invested the intellectual strengths of the Islamization of knowledge project in educational reform and development.
What are the elements of Professor AbuSulayman’s vision of university reform based on epistemological integration? How has the Islamization of knowledge been manifested in educational reform? And what programs did Professor AbuSulayman put in place to reform the scientific methodologies being taught at the university level? What role did AbuSulayman play in developing programs designed to ground the behavioral and social sciences, the humanities and the life sciences in Islamic teachings and principles?
The concept of the Islamization of knowledge, of which Professor AbuSulayman was a pioneer, constituted a practical project for the renewal of Islamic thought which involved a diagnosis of the Ummah’s current crisis, and a program to reform its thought and improve its material conditions.
What are the elements and defining features of Professor AbuSulayman’s Islamization of knowledge project? Where does it fall along the spectrum of Islamic reform efforts generally? What are its manifestations in the field of science and education?
In addition to directing the World Assembly of Muslim Youth from 1973-1982, Professor AbuSulayman organized a number of international conferences on specialized topics of relevance to education, the media, and the economy, thereby helping to deepen awareness of the crisis facing the Muslim Ummah, while at the same time mobilizing resources, both academic and scientific, and developing cadres capable of helping to address this crisis.
How was AbuSulayman’s vision manifested in developing young people’s potentials and capacities throughout the Muslim world?
Perhaps one of the most important efforts made by Professor AbuSulayman in the course of his career was his contribution to establishing and managing institutions and ensuring their continuity. Such institutions include, for example, the Association of Muslim Social Scientists in the United States of America, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, al-Manarat Schools, the World Federation of Islamic Student Organizations, the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, the International Institute of Islamic Thought, the Fairfax Institute, the Child Development Foundation, and others.
How was AbuSulayman’s philosophy manifested in the establishment of these institutions? And how was this expressed in his vision of the future, and in a spirit of cooperation and teamwork?
From all these facts and queries emerged the idea of this conference, the aim of which is to encourage dialogue among participants around the reformist thought system that AbuSulayman helped to establish, and to examine ways of developing this system from both the theoretical and practical perspectives.