What is the umma and how do we conceive of the role of ‘community’ in advancing human values?

The philosopher Cicero advised that ‘before you discuss anything whatsoever, first define your terms.’ Ziauddin Sardar and I have highlighted the pivotal importance of terminology in the shaping of new paradigms of thought in a collection of four of our seminal essays in Rethinking Reform in Higher Education: From Islamisation to Integration of Knowledge published in 2017 by the International Institute of Islamic Thought.

Two diametrically opposed approaches to terminology might be identified: the work of the lexicographer and that of the propagandist. In a recent op-ed piece (‘America’s Uncivil War Over Words’) in the Sunday Review of the New York Times, Kory Stamper points out how the meticulous work of the lexicographer is a vital protection against propaganda: ‘Lexicography is, by nature, a slow process. A lexicographer has to consider a word’s use over time and across a wide variety of sources and speakers. No one source or era is given primacy; what a word means is stripped of spin or rhetoric and placed in a broad historical context. Language moves much faster than lexicographers do, but the lexicographer’s myopic attention to detail is what keeps dictionary definitions from becoming an Orwellian organ of the state.’

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