Professor Dr. Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi
8th December 2015
In my previous article, I had suggested that most Muslims have a disturbing attitude that the only civilization that they are concerned with is only the 1500 years of Islam in the Muslim world. Muslims seem to look down and even reject the sum total of human civilization as ‘jahili’ or ignorant.
I think this is the wrong attitude to take and my reading of the Qur’an and hadiths does not conclude such a stand. The problem with most Muslims is simply that they let their thoughts and ideas be formed by the religious scholars trained in the limited mindset of the Madrasa.
Muslims are either too lazy to read and understand the Qur’an and hadith on their own or they are being frightened by the clerics that studying these sources without the ‘proper’ guide of ustazs will make them go astray and incur the wrath of Allah The Most High.
I have therefore called many times in my writings to reeducate the ustazs or religious teachers by exposing them to the greater awareness of the rich thoughts and ideas of humanity. Muslims, in brief, must be brought back into the fold of humanity.
It does not mean that Islam is being ‘compromised’ but I have enough experience as an academic that the interpretation of an event or an idea is more meaningful and richer when a larger context is used rather than a small one.
If ustazs were trained in the USA or Britain or Europe, they might have different views and interpretation of the sources of Islam then those trained in the so called Muslim countries of Egypt, Saudi Arabia or India or Iran.
Carrying on my discourse of reeducating Muslim back into the fold of humanity, I have outlined a proposal for an institute that would retrain the Ustazs or religious teachers into a more global looking, modern life savvy, open minded and culturally sensitive communicator. I propose that these ustazs to go through a course in Masters in Islam and Civilizational Studies at an institute I would name as CICS (pronounced as ‘sis’) or Centre for Islam and Civilizational Studies.
The candidates for the Masters course will be fully funded for two years. The main thrust of the program is to create an awareness of the thoughts and beliefs of other cultures and faith throughout the history of humankind and how Islam fits into such a larger framework of existence. The candidates will firstly be introduced in the first semester to the various civilizational studies of non-Muslim cultures. Next, in the second semester, the candidates will be asked to choose a culture and he will be instructed in the language, history and culture of that particular group. In the third semester, the candidates will be asked to immerse fully in the chosen culture for six months and observe and record all the important rituals, events, values and belief of that culture. In the final semester, the candidates will write their thesis of which 50% of the writing shall be about the important points concerning the culture he was immersed in and the second part of the thesis will be his own ideas on how to explain and communicate the teachings of Islam to the said culture.
At the moment, the entry requirement for this fully sponsored program are candidates who have a degree in Islamic Studies, can speak Arabic, can comprehend English well and must be a male. Females are disallowed because of the 6 month Cultural Immersion part. The course outline for this program would be something as follows:
Masters in Islam and Civilizational Studies (2 years)
Subject 1 History of Western and Eastern Ideas on Society
Subject 2 Concepts of Religions and Beliefs
Subject 3 History of Scientific Ideas
Subject 4 Methods in Anthropological Research
Subject 5 Chosen Language
Subject 6 History and Culture of ‘Chosen’ Language
Subject 7 Sustainable Environment and the City
Subject 8 History of the Visual Arts
Subject 8 6 Months Participant in Chosen Culture
Subject 9 Thesis Writing
Subject 10 Contemporary Issues of Islam in Modern Societies
In the first semester, the candidates will be opened to the world of ideas from Greek thinkers like Aristotle and Plato through Western modern philosophers like Hegel and Kant to Eastern philosophers like Confucious and Lao Tze as they grapple with the question of what is reality and how humanity should look at itself within that reality. The candidates will also have a glance at the great traditions of religions of the world and will visit temples, monasteries and churches while interacting cordially with the members of each congregants. I think it is absolutely critical that the candidates must attend visual arts performances to readdress issues of Islam and the creative industry.I have also introduced a rudimentary knowledge of how architecture and city planning works within the environment in order to expose them to the new thoughts of sustainable existence. The candidates will also be exposed to the important roles of art in forming the minds of society. All these courses will be taught by Professors of the greatest caliber and great communicators. The level of knowledge will be introductory in order to create the idea that the world of human civilization is much, much bigger than the four walls of the Madrasa. Finally the candidate will be exposed to the anthropological concepts of society as well as the participant observation methodology in order to comprehend at close hand the host society.
In the second semester, the candidate will be asked to choose or will be assigned a cultural focus. Let’s say that the candidate choose the Chinese culture in mainland China then he will be instructed in the language and dialect of the intended region as well as the history and cultural norms of the locality. If he chose the Malaysian Indian culture, then he will be instructed in the popular dialect of the Indians as well as their historical, religious and cultural background.
Thus, in the third semester, the candidate will be sent to the chosen locality and immerse himself with the culture by participating in the communal activities while being a guest of a selected family. The selected family will be compensated with the appropriate honorarium to cover his room and board. The candidate will be immersed in the private family culture as well as the socio-economic culture of the chosen locality.
In the final semester, the candidate will embark on a 6 month thesis writing of roughly 30,000 words. The thesis shall comprise of two parts; the first part is the candidate’s description of the important aspects of the society that he was a part of and the second part is how Islam can be communicated, explained within the cultural framework of the society itself.
Thus, with a small fraction of the JAKIM budget, after 10 years we will be able to trust over 4000 ustazs teaching our children, educating adults at mosques and being part of an important communicator between Muslims and non-Muslims in the local and global arena.
I would suggest a scholarship worth RM50,000 to each candidate who have been chosen or to have chosen the Cultural Immersion program in Malaysia. For candidates to be immersed in international program, the sum of RM150,000 shall be made available. In one year, 200 Overseas cultural Immersion candidates and 200 Local Cultural Immersion candidates can be trained. The total sponsorship budget is RM30,000,000. The institute will have a minimum of 12 full Professors housed in a modest building or 5 three storey shoplots with an overhead and expense budget of RM10,000,000. Thus the total budget for the CICS for one year is RM40,000,000. This budget is only 5% of JAKIM’s annual RM800,000,000 grant. In 10 years there would be 4,000 ustazs teaching in Malaysia and other countries with an open mind, a tolerant attitude towards others and a clear communicator.
Graduates of this course can find employment as lecturers on Civilizational or Malaysian Studies. The graduates are also needed at the diplomatic side, the local authorities, the teachers of schools, academics at universities and special assistants to politician. Most importantly, they would give lectures at mosques about a more open, tolerant and compassionate Islam.
Unless and until Malaysia, the Muslim Countries and Muslims in non-Muslim countries act to retrain their religious teachers, the perception of Islam will forever be ‘us against them’ attitude and the radical group IS can easily manipulate sentiments on the world stage.
Finally, to implement the suggested program above is not difficult at all. The simple question to many Muslim leaders is ‘do you want it done or not?’