What route should we take through the landscape of higher education, in particular within Muslim societies? As a keen country walker, given to long-distance trekking in a range of ‘wilderness’ environments, I might suggest that we approach this task as another arduous trek, setting out to cover as much ground as possible in all weathers and take in every conceivable vista on the way.
As such, I might attempt a survey, ranging over as many views and perspectives as we could hope to encompass, taking in and trying to synthesise as much evidence and analysis as possible. One could begin, for example, with an exploration of the evolution of ‘Universities in Muslim Contexts’ as presented by Marodsilton Muborakshoeva. ‘The early Muslims’, she writes, ‘actively sought to harmonise the message of Islam not only with their existing cultures but also with earlier civilisations’. The institutions of higher learning that developed in the classical period, such as Al-Azhar in Cairo, Al-Qarawiyin in Fez, and Al-Zaytuna in Tunis, had ‘unique architecture, funding structure and organisation of knowledge and also introduced degrees (ijaza) and academic rankings’. Their approach to knowledge was holistic; and they became ‘the prototypes on which the Christians of Europe modelled their own universities’. But that is history. Modern universities in the Muslim world, Muborakshoeva notes, ‘lack creative and original approaches to knowledge acquisition and production, and ‘have very little to contribute either in the field of scientific and technological advancement or in cultural and religious studies’. A point emphasised by Martin Rose in his meticulous survey of universities in North Africa. Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco ‘have been amongst the biggest spenders in the world, fairly consistently putting some 5 per cent of GDP and about 20 per cent of government spending into education over the last half-century’. Yet, the returns, laments Rose, are ‘slender’. Or I could venture into the controversial territory of the madrasas. As the symposium on What is a Madrasa? by Ebrahim Moosa shows, the landscape has changed drastically and is now overwhelmed by undergrowth, bogs and perilous situations on and off the path. I might wail at the desolate panorama before me and take this as incontrovertible evidence of the urgent need for reform, as urged by Abdelwahab El-Affendi. Or I could critically examine the competing models and paradigms which purport to define the nature and purpose of a university education.
All of this is invaluable. The contributors to this issue of Critical Muslim provide us with a wealth of analysis and insights, shine a torch on their varied findings, and furnish us with facts and arguments about what is wrong and what ought to be done to get out of the forest of decay and degeneration. Here, I want to approach this task not as a surveyor charting the territory, nor even as a trekker with his eye on the map seeking a way out of the quagmire, but as an explorer searching for new vistas.
So let me begin with a story. By a useful coincidence, both Ziauddin Sardar and I have converged on the same story by different routes, and come to very similar conclusions. Both of us are involved in ‘The Reform of Higher Education in Muslim Societies’, an initiative of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). It is an attempt to give a new shape and direction to IIIT’s famous ‘Islamisation of Knowledge’ project. Based on the late Ismail Raji al-Faruqi’s Islamisation of Knowledge: General Principles and Work Plan, and launched in the early 1980s, it was a major, world-wide enterprise that captured the imagination of Muslim scholars, thinkers and intellectuals – and led to the establishment of some noted ‘Islamic universities’. Over the last few years, IIIT has convened a number of symposiums, conferences and meetings, in Washington, London and Istanbul, to explore what lessons can be drawn from the ‘Islamisation of Knowledge’ project and how, in a changed and changing context, we can move towards much needed reforms in higher education in the Muslim world. Numerous reports and background papers have been presented at these gatherings; and this issue of Critical Muslim is a contribution to that on-going debate and discussion. Sardar was entrusted with the task of producing a ‘synthesis paper’ that summarised the arguments and findings and charted a way forward. The end result was ‘Reinventing Ourselves: From Islamisation of Knowledge to Integration of Knowledge’, which envisages a new project based on ‘holistic education’ in a ‘universal sense’. Sardar opens the paper with this story.
On 17 June, 1744, the commissioners from Maryland and Virginia negotiated a treaty with the Indians of the Six Nations at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Indians were invited to send boys to William and Mary College where they would be provided for and educated in the ways of the modern world. The next day they declined the offer:
We know that you highly esteem the type of learning taught in those colleges, and that the maintenance of our young men while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinced that you mean to do us good by your proposal; and we thank you heartily. But you, who are wise, must know that different nations have different conceptions of things and you will therefore not take it amiss if our ideas of this kind of education happen not to be the same as yours. We have had some experience in it. Several of our young people were formerly brought up at the colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all of your sciences; but when they came back to us, they were bad runners, ignorant of every means of living in the woods – not fit for hunters, warriors, nor counsellors, they were totally good for nothing. We are, however, not the less obliged by your kind offer, though we decline accepting it; and to show our grateful sense of it, if the gentlemen of Virginia will send us a dozen of their sons, we will take care of their education, instruct them in all we know, and make men of them.
In his study of the Native American worldview, physicist F. David Peat maintains that the natural tendency in Western culture is to warn, help, teach, instruct and improve instead of allowing people to learn from their experience. Under the heading ‘A Story about Knowledge and Knowing’, he relates a story told by Joe Couture, a therapist and traditional healer, which explores the implications of these two ways of knowing and the clash between a Western education and his own Blackfoot background. The story shows how traditional people teach by telling stories rooted in their concrete experiences rather than by imparting facts or applying abstract logical reasoning. In this case a Native Elder, describing the experience of his grandson at a local school, felt no need to analyse the school’s educational philosophy nor discuss the comparative value of different worldviews. He simply told a story which brought into focus some of the things that people were sensing and feeling about the impact of the school on the local community.
The story the Elder told was about the time when he was a boy and had to make a long trip along the Yukon River to Dawson City. His old pickup truck had broken down and he had faced an arduous journey of over a hundred miles in adverse conditions. In the end he had made it through. The old man said that his grandson could now read and write, but he had no doubt that if the boy were to attempt the same journey alone he would never make it back.
As an immediate reaction, and without proper regard for evidence of this kind, we might easily dismiss both stories as largely irrelevant. After all, you might say, what need is there in the modern world for the preservation of a culture so dependent on the manly skills of running, living in the woods, and fighting, even if we might agree that the other skill so prized by the Indians of the Six Nations – that of counselling – is very much in demand, especially in modern societies beset with increasingly prevalent and pressing mental health problems. And how often is the need going to arise for the skills which require a boy to travel a hundred miles in rugged country in adverse conditions in order to get home? These days, children rarely even walk to school, so perilous do their parents consider such a journey.
Sardar’s commentary on the Six Nations anecdote encapsulates the underlying paradox which forms the crux of the problem before us, not only in the specific domain of education, but also in the wider field of paradigm change and its impact on the rise and fall of civilisations.
Different nations have different conceptions of things. It is through education that a nation, a society, or a civilisation, consciously passes on the accumulated skills, knowledge and wisdom of the past to future generations. Education not only preserves the cultural identity and historical legacy of a society but ensures its survival as a distinct entity. It furnishes a worldview within which the society seeks to solve its problems, delineates it social relations and economic activity, makes sense of itself, pushes the frontiers of knowledge, and continues as a living entity. The Indians realised that the education offered by the Government of Virginia did not equip their young with the skills and knowledge they needed to survive; worse, it threatened the very existence of their culture and society.
A society without its own sophisticated education system, designed to preserve and transmit the values and cultural traits that ensure its survival, will either be colonised or lose the distinct elements of its worldview. Both the individual and society suffer from the absence of appropriate educational institutions. The individual is denied the social instrument through which a positive sense of religious values and cultural identity can be developed. The society is deprived of its human capital with the result that almost all spheres – from values and skills to governance, law, commerce, finance, industry and cultural production – go into irreparable decline. Thus, education is not simply a process through which knowledge is imparted; it is also, in the shape of higher education, the mechanism through which knowledge is actually generated. Even if Muslim societies have values to share, without a thriving education system, as Abdelwahab El-Affendi notes, they have very little knowledge to share. This is the crisis that has confronted Muslim societies since the seventeenth century onwards when “almost all the knowledge Muslims possessed became worthless overnight in terms of worldly value”. But it was not simply worldly knowledge that evaporated from Muslim societies. The decline of great Muslim educational institutions, described so aptly by George Makdisi in The Rise of Colleges, also eroded the appreciation of Muslim heritage and legacy, and led to the erosion of Muslim norms and values, and the perversion of religious knowledge.
But, as Sardar contends, the Six Nations anecdote also points towards a predicament. While the Indians were right to judge that the new ways of knowing were not appropriate for their society at the time, this choice did nothing to preserve their cultures or save them from catastrophic decline. The Indians, like the Muslims who followed a similar path later on, did themselves no service by remaining ignorant for the power differential cemented by colonialism ‘drove the former to extinction and the latter to subjugation’. In order to confront this fundamental paradox, asserts Sardar, we need to balance the other side of the equation and face up to the fact that our spiritual and ethical values cannot survive without the power to protect our societies from subjugation. And he comes to the inescapable conclusion that it is therefore incumbent on Muslim societies ‘to appreciate and achieve a degree of excellence in contemporary knowledge’.
The analysis highlights the pivotal concepts that guide us to the new vista we need to open up. It needs to be a view which can take in both a broad panoramic vision, seeing on all sides and far into the distance, and a depth of field which gives us sharp focus when we need it. To do so, we need, above all, to understand that there are different though complementary levels of description in a multi-layered and multi-faceted reality where the diversity of forms is infinite and ever-changing, but which, nevertheless, has an origin and a centre, an immutable essence which is the source of everything and where all diversity and multiplicity find ultimate unity and reconciliation.
To encompass this unity in diversity within the field of education, we need to critically examine (and, ideally, clear away) the massive impediment caused by the human tendency to divide reality into competing and mutually exclusive ideas, approaches, and paradigms of thought which generate and sustain adversarial positions. Of course, this tendency is ingrained in us in the domain of duality, for, as the Qur’an tells us, ‘everything have We created in pairs’ (51:49). In an essay on the power of education in the previous issue of Critical Muslim, I suggested that binary thinking and dichotomisation are embedded in us as one of the chief features of the simple ‘narrative’ or ‘script’ which gives us the means to judge and act quickly and decisively. ‘Us’ and ‘them’ is a powerful call to incite action, judgement, and hostility. By contrast, the armchair philosopher who scrutinises the logical minutiae of every proposition, absorbs every qualification, respects every position, seeks out every iota of evidence, and agonises over every minor dissonance and nuance may never get out of his chair. This paralysis of indecision is of course the extreme of one end of the spectrum, just as the conditioned reflex of the instant opinion or ingrained prejudice lies at the other extreme, reflecting as it does our propensity for the ‘narrative fallacy’, the simple story that makes comforting sense of an increasingly complex world. It is well known, for example, that in times of economic stress, social decay, or wider civilisational decline, people will often blame ‘immigrants’ as the source of the endemic problems within their own society. Blaming the ‘other’ is a characteristically simple explanation which obviates the need for any serious self-examination.
But the dilemma represented by these two types of thinking is not confined to the extremes. The simplistic doctrine of the ‘Clash of Civilisations’, for example, is not generally perceived as extreme. On the contrary, despite Fred Halliday’s description of it as ‘pernicious’ and typical of the ‘broad-sweep’ approach which is ‘careless with facts, ignorant of history and indifferent to the whole range of social theory that has, with due care, looked at such issues as culture, socialisation and tradition’, its central fallacies are tenaciously clung to within a broad swathe of public opinion, the political and thinktank culture, and the media. All of these give us regular object lessons that demonstrate how vulnerable we are to rapid thinking, and how the dichotomisation which is so often a key feature of such thinking can so easily tend to the norm and become habitual and mainstream.
It is worth examining the terms ‘dichotomisation’ and ‘dialectic’. While the former is often marshalled to divide reality by adopting a polarised and oppositional posture which rejects the ‘other’ and can find no commonality or convergence between competing positions, the latter ideally seeks to refine an existing position and advance knowledge and civilisation through critical engagement with a range of evidence and a plurality of alternative perspectives, and through open and respectful dialogue and polylogue with a wider community of interlocutors. I say, ‘ideally’ because ‘discussion’ in general is clearly a continuum. At one end, there is the polarised ‘debate’ in which each ‘side’ seeks to defend its ‘position’, proposing or opposing a ‘motion’, and relying as much (or more) on rhetoric as reasoned argument and evidence. As such, ‘debate’ may do little more than bolster the preference for dichotomisation and cement an existing hypothesis or narrative. At the other end of the continuum lies an advanced mode of thought, the committed endeavour of ‘dialectic’, at once rigorously logical and openly relational.
The appeal of simple stories is also only too clear in the popularity and influence of the ethnocentric polemics of Samuel Huntington, Niall Ferguson and Dinesh D’Souza in which any dissenting voice is dismissed as an agent of ‘cultural relativism’. ‘Relativism’ is a useful bugbear of traditionalist ideologues and cultural supremacists suggesting both chronic disorientation and moral laxity. As Jacques Barzun has pointed out in his monumental survey of modern Western civilisation, the bogey word relativism has become ‘a cliché that stands for the cause of every laxity’, and ‘a slippery slope of cunning justifications and satanic whisperings, taking us further and further away from the certainty of eternal truths and absolute values’. But the root of the word ‘relativism’ might be more usefully seen as a continuum ranging from a value-free ‘anything goes’ mentality which may indeed be rootless in a negative sense, to a very positive ability to form ‘relationship’, whether with ideas or with people. A book about ‘Civilisation’ which has the subtitle ‘The West and the Rest’ clearly occupies a position which is unable to disentangle the semantics of ‘relativism’ from that of ‘relationship’.
Another topical example of muddling different shades of meanings of the same word or its root is the use of the word ‘multiculturalism’. The word might refer to at least three different notions: first, the existence of plurality or diversity (‘multiculturality’); second, the model of multiculturalism which promotes tolerance between separate communities within plural societies (sometimes referred to as ‘plural monoculturalism’); and third, pluralism as an active process of constructive engagement between different communities (sometimes called ‘interculturalism’). While some might legitimately argue that social cohesion and the building of a shared narrative is not facilitated by mere tolerance between isolated encampments within society, it is profoundly misleading to suggest that multiculturalism in its critically important sense of active intercultural engagement is dead. Lack of care in distinguishing such concepts can have profoundly negative consequences not only for minority communities but also for wider society. It is also important to distinguish pluralism in its most creative sense (as an active truth-seeking encounter) from the syncretism which cobbles together bits and pieces of different traditions, promotes a kind of wishy-washy universalism, or serves up comforting platitudes about common ground at an interfaith breakfast.
Also of relevance is the problematic nature of the term modernity and the tendency of the ‘traditionalist’ outlook to apply a pejorative sense to everything modern. This conflation is often carried further in the equation of modernity with the so-called ‘myth of progress’ and the concomitant association of the ‘secular’ and ‘relative’ with the denial of immutable truths and absolute values. The term ‘secular’ comes from the Latin saeculum, which means ‘this age’ or ‘the present time’, and the concept refers to the condition of the world at this particular time or period or age. In early Christian texts it was used to refer to the temporal, as opposed to the spiritual, world.
It can be argued, however, that it is precisely by recognising and understanding the condition of the world at this particular time that we can meet the challenge of religious and cultural pluralism. This is not to give precedence to the temporal world over the spiritual world, nor to set one against the other, but to understand that human minds are conditioned differently in each age, and that tradition must be dynamically self-renewing and responsive to new conditions and new questions if it is to remain a living tradition. In other words, time, place and people cannot be ignored in the development of human understanding.
In discussing the need for clear distinctions in the use of terminology, I introduced the phrase ‘integral perspective’ in considering how we might transform apparent opposition into complementarity and I would like to take the term ‘integral’ (and its relations ‘integration’ and ‘integrity’) as the key pointers to the new vista we need to open up. These words come from Latin integer, ‘whole, complete, entire’, and clearly relate also to the idea of ‘holism’ and its diverse realisations in the field of ‘holistic education’. There is also an obvious connection with the principle of Divine Unity or Oneness (tawhid), and with the attempts to realise this principle in the domain of education through the ‘Islamisation of Knowledge’.
The work of the philosopher Jean Gebser in describing the structural changes or transformations in human consciousness over time is instructive. Basing his conclusions on evidence form a wide-ranging study of human endeavour, Gebser believed that humanity is at the stage of transition from the ‘Mental’ to the ‘Integral’ structure of consciousness. He described the deficient form of the ‘Mental’ structure as the value-free ontology of rational materialism, but upheld that this moribund structure could not be renewed through a return to ‘values’; rather, a transition was needed to an ‘Integral’ mode of consciousness which was not fixated on dualistically opposed categories, one-sided perspectives, fixed frames, competing paradigms, and the like.
There is a clear intersection here between Gebser’s ‘Integral’ mode of consciousness and the process of dialectic. Some development psychologists have described dialectic as the highest stage of cognitive development, encompassing the ability to accept contradictions, constructive confrontations, paradoxes, and asynchronies. This is not a process of compromise, loose relativism or evasive fudging of difficult issues, but one of creative tension which ultimately transforms contradictions into complementarities, releasing the open-minded thinker from ingrained habits and conditioned patterns of thought, established affiliations, fear of change and instability, false certainties, and reluctance to approach anything which may be threatening to one’s sense of self.
Yet, the convergence between the dialectical process as an advanced mode of human thought and the idea of an emerging integral mode of consciousness is only partial. So in what sense is the idea of an integral perspective as an ‘emerging consciousness’ or, in Gebser’s terms, transition to a new ‘mental structure’, different in important respects from dialectic? Let us take dialectic in its sense of a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject who wish to persuade others of the truth of their position or refine that truth through reasoned arguments and critical engagement with the arguments of others. This is the Socratic ideal which upholds dialectic as a means of persuasion which is immeasurably superior to the rhetoric that manipulates emotionally or the sophistry that seduces by elevating oratory to an art form. This ideal has come down to us as one of the founding principles of Western civilisation, and also converges in many ways with the culture of intellectual inquiry and knowledge exchange which distinguished Islam at the height of its cultural vigour. That culture provided a vehicle for the rediscovery and transmission of classical civilisation, but it was of course much more than that. Indeed, as Muhammad Asad eloquently reminds us, it was the higher intellectual and spiritual impulse derived from the divinely revealed teachings of the Qu’ran which ignited that ‘spirit of intellectual curiosity and independent inquiry’, and which in turn ‘penetrated in countless ways and by-ways into the mind of medieval Europe and gave rise to that revival of Western culture which we call the Renaissance, and thus became in the course of time largely responsible for the birth of what is described as the age of science: the age in which we are now living’.
No one need deny the benefits the ‘age of science’ has brought us (provided we distinguish it from scientism), nor the cumulative advancement of knowledge derived from rational argument, dialectic, critical thinking, logical analysis, intellectual inquiry and cross-cultural exchange. But the question remains as to the way in which any putative emerging ‘integral’ mode of consciousness can carry further the degree of synthesis which can be attained through a methodology based largely on analytical tools.
I suggest that the answer already lies in the concept of tawhid, and in what Sardar has described as the ‘basic axioms of the worldview of Islam’. Referring to the ‘Islamisation of Knowledge’ project he describes how, starting from the Unity of Allah, ‘the first principle of Islam’ in the Work Plan ‘systematically leads us to the unity of creation (the cosmic order, and the interconnection of everything), the unity of knowledge, the unity of life (human existence as a sacred trust, amanah, from God, and the human being as trustee, khalifah, of the abode of our terrestrial journey), the unity of humanity, and finally the complementary nature of revelation and reason. Collectively, these axioms offer us an excellent framework both for the pursuit of knowledge and for the reform of Muslim education.’
But, as Sardar goes on to say, the way forward within this overarching framework of unity, is the ‘reinvention’ of the task, taking it forward from the ‘Islamisation’ to the ‘Integration’ of knowledge’. As he argued so succinctly in an earlier critique of Islamisation, ‘Islamising disciplines already infused with a materialistic metaphysics and western, secularist ethics is tantamount to a cosmetic epistemological face-lift and nothing more. At best, it would perpetuate the dichotomy of secular and Islamic knowledge’ that the project was so keen to avoid.
With this fundamentally creative shift from Islamisation to integration, and its implications for a truly holistic education, I wholeheartedly concur, whether we describe it as ‘reform’, ‘reinvention’, or in other terms which have been used in recent literature, such as ‘reconfiguration’, ‘revitalisation’, ‘revivification’, ‘re-envisioning’, ‘regeneration’, ‘transformation’ or even ‘revolution’. The need to ‘reinvent’ the task is a pressing one, because, as Sardar explains, any attempt at knowledge production that begins with the unifying axioms in the Work Plan, ‘even though they are rooted in Islamic thought and worldview, is intrinsically universal. The first principles do not focus solely on Muslims or Muslim societies but on the whole of humanity.’ In ‘Beyond Single Narratives’, Farid Panjwani reminds us that, while retaining their ideals and values, Muslims have worked with people of other faiths and cultures to engage with problems of their times, yet ‘much of the literature on Islamic education contributes to widening the gap between Islam and the West. In depicting Western civilisation as deeply problematic, and an exclusivist “Islamic” approach as the solution, it creates dichotomies and mirrors the doctrine of the clash of civilisations’. Abdulkader Tayob takes up the insights of Rumi on the ‘self and the other’ to argue that it is ‘time that Islamic education reform locates itself more clearly in comparative perspective’. Richard Pring, asking the question ‘What is a University?’ refers to John Henry Newman’s vision of a university as ‘a place of teaching universal knowledge’ and John Stuart Mill’s contention that a university was not essentially a place of professional education ‘teaching the knowledge required to fit men for some special mode of gaining their livelihood’ but a place for creating ‘capable and cultivated human beings’. Looking back to the early universities of the Muslim world in the tenth and eleventh centuries, Pring refers to the work of Muborakshoeva in describing their orientation towards ‘universal knowledge’ and ‘the formulation of a world-view with a pluralistic concept of knowledge and epistemology, yet within the overall framework of revelation’.
The fourteenth century Andalusian philosopher and jurist Al-Shatibi, responding to the changing realities of his society in which power was shifting markedly from Muslims to Christians, taught that although individuals and communities may come from different cultures which have been shaped by particular and specific historical experiences, they all share certain universal and supra-historical principles and moral values which are not the sole property of any religion or cultural group. Nevertheless, specific formulation of such universal principles and values does not take place in a vacuum but is inevitably affected by the context provided by our particular experiences as historical beings. As a result, there is a constant need to challenge and examine the way such principles are formulated (and formalised), particularly when people with different customs continue to meet and interact.
In identifying the ‘natural corollary’ of the axioms underlying the Work Plan, Sardar contends that ‘human society and individuality cannot be properly understood in terms of modernity, postmodernism, secularism, positivism, reductionism, formalism and naturalism and numerous other “isms” that have brought us to the edge of chaos in the first place. Human beings are purposeful. We create social, economic, political and cultural institutions not just to meet certain needs, achieve certain objectives, but also to realise certain values. We pursue knowledge not only to acquire greater understanding and more effective action in the real world but also to promote certain principles that integrate knowledge with our cherished values, emphasise the interdependence of creation, unite humanity, promote equity and justice, and preserve and enhance life.’
So let us return to the pressing question: in what sense, then, can an integral perspective take us further than the remedies which are so often advanced for the reform of higher education in Muslim societies? How can we expand our view beyond the dichotomy of seeing either ‘Westernisation’ or ‘Islamisation’ as a panacea? How can we go beyond the ‘lame-duck’ mentality which frames the answer only in terms of ‘catching up’ with Western models of knowledge production, professionalism, quality assurance, critical thinking, research, liberal arts, and all the other factors which seem to ensure the dominance of Western universities in global rankings? At the same time, how can we avoid the ‘cosy corner’ mentality which prefers to occupy a parochial corner in which everything which is not explicitly ‘Islamicised’ is seen as threatening or deviant? We need to be constantly on our guard against what might be called ‘terminological entropy’, that degradation and running down of meaning within conceptual vocabularies. Islamisation, for example, is reduced and exteriorised to the idea that there should be ‘Islamic bicycles’, ‘Islamic trains’ or the like. I have encountered this mentality many times in my advocacy work for the greater involvement of Muslims in outdoor pursuits and the natural world, having been asked on more than one occasion where Muslims can participate in ‘Islamic walking’ as if this is some special type of walking distinct from the way in which other human beings walk. Ultimately, how can we create an educational culture which is a beacon of excellence for all humanity? At best, Muslim educators will do what catching up is needed, and this is no mean task, but at the same time, they will be fully aware of a more pressing and more sublime mission. Islamic civilisation has more to offer the world than apologetic imitations of the worst aspects of utilitarian education systems, even if the best aspects of any system can serve to remind Muslims of what made their own civilisation a great one. We need to have the humility to realise that we can indeed reclaim and revive forgotten or stagnant aspects of Islamic tradition through dynamic contact with other intellectual and pedagogic traditions which have partially carried the underlying Qur’anic spirit of inquiry into the modern age.
But this ‘reclamation’ must be a truly creative process, and not the tedious harking back to the achievements of the golden age of Islamic civilisation, that backward-looking nostalgia as an illusory compensation for the dearth of new ideas which Malik Bennabi saw as a sign of ‘civilisational bankruptcy’. It must examine how the values and principles which gave rise to such a civilisation can be renewed, re-interpreted and applied in the contemporary world. Bennabi’s analysis concurs to some degree with the finding of Arnold Toynbee in his monumental study of history that ‘archaism’ (persistent idealisation of past glories) is one of the key signs of civilisational decay. As Panjwani so succinctly states in his conclusion, ‘tradition cannot be inherited passively. Each generation must acquire it afresh and with labour’. While this renewal needs to tread carefully in avoiding the ‘spectre of interpretive relativism’, it must, above all, embrace relationship – with texts, non-fiction as well as fiction as Ruqayyah Kareem argues and Naomi Foyle shows so eloquently, with all humanity and human knowledge, with all creation and the cosmic order, and with God.
The Qur’an tells us, ‘We have made you into nations and tribes so that you may come to know one another’ (49:13).
And it is that saving grace of ‘relationship’ which is, for me, the heart of the matter. As we reach for an integral perspective, whether we conceive of it as an emerging consciousness, a shift to a new ‘mental structure’, or simply as a new paradigm, we need to see that this requires the totality of human faculties, ‘the hearing, sight and hearts’, which, as the Qur’an repeatedly reminds us, we have been endowed, and for which we have ‘cause to be grateful’ (16:78, 23:78, 46:26, 67:23). The stupendous range of our faculties encompasses all that makes us human: at the very least, the senses which enable us to learn by direct observation and experience; the language-based deliberative or rational faculties which enable us to think, inquire, analyse, define, discriminate, conceptualise, theorise, and argue (fikr, ‘aql); our capacity for memory; and the moral faculties which provide a criterion (furqan) for distinguishing truth from falsehood and right from wrong. These alone, without yet attempting to explore the affective dimension of feeling, ‘emotional intelligence’ and empathy, nor those ‘higher’ faculties associated with spiritual consciousness, point to many of the key objectives of the educational process, including the incorporation of both knowledge and values.
Awareness of the totality of human faculties enables us to embark on a balanced critique of the state of higher education in all societies. Let us take a typical dichotomy, the idea that if knowledge is at risk in Muslim societies, so values are at risk in Western ones. Yet, there is no shortage of voices to tell us that both knowledge and values are being undermined in Western universities, despite the dominance of Anglophone institutions of higher learning in global rankings. Henry Giroux, for instance, contends that ‘higher education in America has been hijacked by the corporate elite’. He laments that ‘public spheres that once offered at least the glimmer of progressive ideas, enlightened social policies, non-commodified values, and critical dialogue and exchange have been increasingly commercialised – or replaced by private spaces and corporate settings whose ultimate fidelity is to increasing profit margins.’ At this time, he pleads, ‘it is more crucial than ever to believe that the university is both a public trust and social good. At best, it is a critical institution infused with the promise of cultivating intellectual insight, the imagination, inquisitiveness, risk-taking, social responsibility and the struggle for justice.’ Giroux’s concerns are echoed by Harry Lewis, the former Dean of Harvard College, whose robust critique of Harvard is mirrored in the judgement of many scholars and experts that higher education in America is in crisis. According to Lewis, colleges in America (Harvard included) have forgotten that the fundamental goal of a university education should be is to ‘turn teenagers into adults, to help them grow up, to learn who they are, to search for a larger purpose for their lives, and to leave college as better human beings’. Lewis believes that because colleges have failed to offer students reasons for education – which forces them to wrestle with deeper questions of meaning and purpose – they are failing students and a country that desperately needs a well-educated citizenry. ‘The old ideal of a liberal education’, he writes, ‘lives on in name only. No longer does Harvard teach the things that will free the human mind and spirit.’ And it is not difficult to see this decline as the extension of a profound educational crisis within the wider educational system in the West.
The very concept of qualitative education designed to nurture the full extent of human potential has been usurped by dumbed-down, uninspiring, utilitarian regimes shackled to a narrow range of prescribed content and obsessed with quantitative evaluative approaches derived from an oppressive culture of target-driven managerialism which reduces human beings to conforming and performing cogs in the industrial machine. There is an array of faculties and virtues which it ought to be the business of universities to nurture and inspire, but which are being neglected even in universities which occupy the top echelon in global rankings. As Paul Ashwin shows, the ranking of a university has little relevance to the quality of education the students receive. Indeed, the very ‘notion of improving quality is silent about what quality should be’.
How then can we extend the function of a university as a ‘critical institution’ to the cultivation not only of those conventional analytical tools of rationality or ‘critical thinking’ (and their application in professional development) but also far beyond a pragmatic and utilitarian focus to the igniting of all those capacities and virtues envisioned by so many contemporary educationalists and social and cultural critics whose passionate voices seem often to be crying in the wilderness? Let us repeat them: ‘intellectual insight, the imagination, inquisitiveness, risk-taking, social responsibility and the struggle for justice’ as well as the liberation of the human mind and spirit, the search for deeper meaning and purpose, and a vision of what it means to be a fully human being. And let us add creativity, independent thinking, and, of course, that expansiveness and receptivity of the open heart and mind which can listen as well as talk and reaches out with real interest and deep courtesy to the ‘other’ not only through dialogue and discussion, but also through transforming love. To them we might add Ronald Barnett’s insight that a genuine higher learning is ‘unsettling’ in the sense of ‘subverting the student’s taken-for-granted world’, and ‘disturbing because, ultimately, the student comes to see that things could always be other than they are. A higher education experience is not complete unless the student realises that, no matter how much effort is put in, or how much library research, there are no final answers.’ And Richard Pring takes this necessary subversion a stage further, asking whether higher education must also confront and subvert ‘the taken-for-granted world of others – parents, governments and other stakeholders, and ‘the settled perceptions of those of us responsible for delivering it’.
I deliberately include the ‘heart and mind’ in my approach to the extended range of faculties (and hence a truly integral perspective) because it is the composite organ of ‘mind-heart’ (fu’ad) which is indicated by those Qur’anic verses which exhort us to be grateful for the faculties with which we have been endowed. Muhammad Asad explains that this concept encompasses both intellect and feeling, and gives various translations of the term in different verses as ‘minds’, ‘hearts’ and ‘knowledgeable hearts’. In the same way, the faculty of ‘aql (intellect) though often used to mean ‘reason’ in the sense of logical thinking is a multi-layered concept which, as Cyril Glassé points out, corresponds in its highest and metaphysical sense, as used in Islamic philosophy, to the Intellect or nous, as understood in Platonism and Neoplatonism. This is the transcendent Intellect, through which man is capable of the recognition of Reality. In the tradition of Orthodox Christianity it is the highest faculty in man, and through it, man knows God or the inner essence or principles (logoi) of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. It dwells in the depth of the soul and constitutes the innermost aspect of the Heart, the organ of contemplation. Rumi distinguishes between the two senses in his typically concrete and metaphorical language by describing the ‘intellect’ as the ‘husk’ and the ‘Intellect of the intellect’ as the ‘kernel’.
It is important also to realise that the multi-levelled conception of ‘aql not only encompasses both reason and spiritual intelligence, or rationality and intellection, but also includes a moral dimension, in much the same way as the conception of ‘excellence’ expressed in the Arabic word husn goes far beyond the sense of personal mastery or achievement in skill or knowledge but embraces virtue and goodness. Karim Crow has shown that one of the key components of the concept of ‘intelligence’ expressed by the term ‘aql was ‘ethical-spiritual, teaching how to rectify one’s integrity and to cause one’s human impulses, faculties and latent powers to flourish, with the purified emotions promoting the operation of a higher intelligence’. Such an analysis converges usefully with modern advances in the field of cognitive psychology which question the conventional reduction of human intelligence to a single unitary or g factor for ‘general intelligence’ as measured by IQ tests, and point instead to ‘multiple intelligences’. Gardner identifies seven of these: linguistic, visual-spatial, logico-mathematical, body-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, interpersonal and intrapersonal. According to Crow, the combination of knowledge and understanding, and of emotional, social and moral intelligence, is also traditionally suggested by the term ‘wisdom’ and is manifested in ‘personal integrity, conscience and effective behaviour’. Guy Claxton reports the case of people who work as handicappers at American racecourses who ‘are able to make calculations, based on a highly intricate model involving as many as seven different variables, yet their ability to do so is completely unrelated to their IQ scores’.
The fact that it is the linguistic and logico-mathematical intelligences that are most prized in Western education systems partly reflects the dominant influence of Jean Piaget in the field of developmental psychology. Piaget effectively demoted the intuitive, practical intelligence to the infantile level of ‘sensorimotor intelligence’ which is dominant during the first two years of life, to be superseded and transformed in due course by more powerful, abstract, intellectual ways of knowing – notably, the ‘formal operations’ of hypothetico-deductive thinking and theory construction. Claxton points out that there is an implicit assumption in Piaget’s ‘stage theory’ of development that the highest form of intelligence is the operation of reason and logic, and his influence on several generations of educators has ensured that ‘schools, even primary schools and kindergartens, saw their job as weaning children off their reliance on their senses and their intuition, and encouraging them to become deliberators and explainers as fast as possible.’ Claxton labels this type of thinking as ‘d-mode’, that type of deliberate conscious thinking which works well when the problem it is facing is easily subject to generalisation and neat conceptualisation; is much more interested in finding unequivocal answers and solutions than in examining the presuppositions behind the questions, which may imply awkward complexities; assumes that the way it sees the situation is the way it is and does not easily see the fault may be in the way the situation is perceived or ‘framed’; seeks and prefers clarity and precision through literal and explicit language, and neither likes nor values confusion or ambiguity; is purposeful and effortful rather than playful and operates with a sense of urgency and impatience; and works well when tackling problems which can be treated as an assemblage of nameable parts and are therefore accessible to the function of language in atomising, segmenting and analysing.
In reclaiming its higher purposes from corporatisation or any other corruption of its ideals, a higher education might embrace some of those advanced critical faculties and socially responsible virtues identified by Giroux and others, but how, for example is one to develop spiritual aspiration, even if the related faculties of will, intention and decision may be more typically associated with the ‘effort’ which is indispensable for intellectual development? How is one to teach contemplative reflection, or pondering the signs in creation which point (through the ‘creative imagination’ in its deepest sense) to the existence of the Creator, or spiritual attentiveness, by which one watches over and take care of one’s soul or spiritual heart, a state of presence with God in which the aspirant leaves behind all other thoughts and concerns? How is one to teach taqwa, in its deepest sense of ‘consciousness of God’, or spiritual intuition, or spiritual insight? Some of this might be on the curriculum in the form of ‘meditation’ in some schools (though even then often reduced to a ‘tool’ for relaxation, calmness, happiness, mindfulness for greater effectiveness, or some other ‘useful’ objective), or it might be touched on or evoked in receptive souls through ‘nature education’, or other holistic or creative activities, but how is it to be embedded in the specialised subject matter of a university course? Is it not something which might rather be nurtured through the totality of tarbiyah, that multi-faceted educational process which includes not only formal education but also what is learnt through family, friends, mentors, supplementary education, recreational activities, culture, and travel (even unto China)? Yet, it can also be argued that a good teacher should be not only a mu’allim, a transmitter of knowledge but also a murabbi, a nurturer of souls and developer of character.
But let us return to earth from the stratosphere, and to the vista we might hope to reach through educational reform founded on integration of knowledge and values and the transforming power of relationship. Abdulkader Tayob points the way in his commentary on one of the discourses of Rumi, in which Mevlana turns his attention again and again to the pain and hurt felt in the encounter between the ‘self and the other’ and the breakdown in relations between them. As Tayob comments, Rumi turns away from ‘a self that is antagonistic or set apart from the other’ and ‘directs the self to unity and union with the other’. This is not to deny the pain, ‘the feeling of alienation and dependency that has struck a deep chord’ in those engaged in Islamic educational reform in modern times. And as Tayob asserts, that pain should certainly ‘not be replaced with an uncomplicated feeling of unity and universality. The pain of colonialism, the destruction of communities and livelihoods through rampant capitalism, and other dysfunctional systems in the modern world, cannot be denied’.
Yet Rumi’s appreciation of both unity and multiplicity in the world, and his profound perception that ‘the road to the self passes through the other,’ opens a path to modern educational reform which can transcend the attachment to distinction and difference we can see in the three major ‘dispositions’ identified by Tayob. Attachment to dichotomisation is only too evident in the dispositions of anti-Western ‘rejectionism’ and the ‘bifurcation’ which led to the disconnection between religious and secular education, but Tayob also contends that it is also present in the third disposition represented chiefly by the ‘Islamisation’ movement. Though ostensibly ‘integrationist’, this ‘takes one step in the direction of universality and unity’ only to ‘retreat as quickly with another step towards distinction and difference’. In such a way, the approach of Islamisation might be characterised as a false dawn, or a cul de sac which purports to lead to integration but which ultimately focuses only on the self and does not learn any lessons from the way in which ‘the Other provides a perfect reflection of the self’. A point also indirectly made by Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqi, who after spending a life time working and researching ‘Islamic economics’, now concludes that both the ‘theory and practice of Islamic economics and banking is flawed, full of anomalies, and have basically failed as projects. All we can do is to congratulate ourselves on having re-invented capitalism by using Islamic jurisprudence!’ To claim that Muslims are somehow immune from ‘secularism, individualism, and ethical malaise’ is to be in a state of denial, for the problems of politics, society and ethics clearly evident in the West, in the Other, ‘call for serious examination in the self’ and such problems offer a real starting point for educational reform. In the same way, and perhaps more pointedly, it is also an illusion for Muslims to claim that they are immune from the ‘triviality, desolation and dysfunctionality’ which the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, sees as increasingly evident in contemporary British society. And we might add here the searing question of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, asking why we behold the mote (speck) in our brother’s eye but do not consider the beam in our own eye (Matthew 7:1-5). Also known as the ‘Discourse on Judgmentalism’, its succinct metaphor about the inter-relationship between self and other is also expressed in the language of modern ‘depth’ psychology in the concepts of ‘shadow’ and ‘projection’. In denying the beam in our own eye, we unconsciously project it onto the other, in the same way as we project the ills of our own society onto immigrants, scapegoating and even demonising the ‘alien’. In such a way, the other is perceived as ‘dark’, a projection of our own ‘shadow’, that nether region of the psyche which we fail to recognise in ourselves as part of our ‘identity’. Numerous malignant outcomes of this unconsciousness might be mentioned, including the murderous rampages of Boko Haram and Anders Breivik, discussed by Sindre Bangstad in his article on Islamophobia in Norway, in their respective demonisation either of the ‘West’ (Boko = Western books) or the ‘multiculturalism’ which raises for the xenophobes the hideous spectre of the ‘Islamification’ of Europe.
Tayob’s conclusion that ‘values’ must take precedence over ‘identity’ in steering a new course towards the ‘radical unity’ needed for educational reform appears to contradict Gebser’s belief that the ‘moribund “Mental” structure’ cannot be renewed through a return to ‘values’, but only through a transition to an ‘Integral’ mode of consciousness. But both these insights are immensely valuable, and one way to move towards a resolution of any seeming contradictions is to take ‘radical’ in its sense of relating to the ‘root’ or origin, and not in its later subsidiary sense as referring to political activism or innovative reform and change. It is only too evident how terminological entropy has further truncated the term in its sense of ‘radicalisation’ applied to extremists.
Being ‘radical’ in the sense of turning to one’s origin is to avoid tunnel vision, neither facing narrowly to the front (seduced by the ‘progressivism’ which rejects all tradition) nor to the rear (incarcerated in regressive dogmatism or drowning in nostalgia for past times) but facing always to the Centre, which is the ‘original point’ indicated by the meaning of the word ‘revolution’. In the same way we might refer to the root of the word ‘identity’. Its original sense is best preserved in its derivative ‘identical’ which reflects the meaning of Latin identitas, literally ‘sameness’, derived from Latin idem, ‘same’. There is a common ‘identity’ in all human beings residing in the primordial disposition or essential nature (fitrah) with which we have been divinely endowed. The word ‘simple’, derived from the Indo-European root meaning ‘same’ has the underlying sense ‘same-fold’ – that is, not multifarious. The semantic connection between what is simple and what is single is evident in the Latin word simplus (‘single’) derived from this root. The ‘simple’ person may therefore be seen in one sense as a ‘single’ undivided person, a person who is always ‘the same’, true to himself or herself. Simplicity in this sense is like a mirror which reflects the Divine Singularity at the core of every human being.
The relationship between the words ‘origin’ and ‘orientation’ can also be excavated from their common root. Both English words come from the same source, Latin oriri ‘rise’. The verb ‘orient’ and its variant ‘orientate’ originally meant ‘turn the face to the east’, the direction of the rising sun. Orientation is an essential spiritual concept, whether exoterically in terms of physical direction (as in the qibla, the direction Muslims face in the ritual prayer, or facing east towards the altar for Christians) or esoterically as the light of God, ‘neither of the East nor of the West’ (24:35), the point of Unity within the Heart, the dimensionless point at the Centre beyond duality and the play of the opposites. To face to the centre in this inward direction and to perceive that ‘wherever you turn there is the face of God’ (2:115) entails the constant remembrance of our origin, our point of arising, and our inevitable return: ‘Verily, unto God do we belong and, verily, unto Him we shall return’ (2:156).
In all of these semantic excavations, we might discern a primordial language which articulates the fundamental unity and interconnection at the root of everything that exists. That ‘radical unity’ in its deepest sense must be at the heart of the radical educational reform needed in all societies. Rooted in living relationship between the ‘self and the other’, our diverse identities, orientations and values find a common origin and centre which dissolves the rigid oppositions erected by dualism. As Sardar concludes, ‘Islamisation of Knowledge, like most ideas, has moved on. It was a product of its time and context. But it has left a legacy’. Its enunciation of first principles centred on Divine Unity (tawhid) stand as an enduring framework for educational reform. Now, we ‘move forward’ with ‘Integration of Knowledge’, to be sure, but also with that panoramic integral perspective which can only be encompassed by the totality of human faculties. This is the emerging consciousness which offers us hope for the future.