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ISLAM, SCIENCE, AND MODERNITY:
FROM NORTHERN VIRGINIA TO KUALA LUMPUR
CHRISTOPHER A. FURLOW
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Christopher A. Furlow
I am indebted to many people intellectually and personally. I would like to thank
my committee Paul Magnarella, H. Russell Bernard, John Moore, and Robert Hatch who
persevered with me to the very end. I would like to thank my wife Julie for all her help
and encouragement. I would also like to thank our children Nathan and Andrew without
whom I would have finished much sooner but without whom life would not be nearly as
wonderful and the completed dissertation nearly as meaningful. My parents Richard and
Deborah deserve many thanks for their encouragement and enthusiasm.
I would also like to thank the kind people, to numerous to mention by name, in
Virginia, Washington, DC, Malaysia, London, and elsewhere who are engaged in the
debates this dissertation describes. The welcoming, encouragement, and openness of
these individuals made fieldwork a pleasure.
For financial support, I would like to thank Dr. Taha J. Al-Alwani and the
Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences for his invitation to visit GSISS for a
semester and the financial support he provided during my stay in the form of a graduate
research fellowship and the National Science Foundation program in science and
technology studies that supported my research through Dissertation Improvement Grant
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A CKN OW LED GEM EN TS.................. ................................ .. ...... iv
LIST OF FIGURES...................................... ................... .... ....... vii
ABSTRACT.................................. ................... ........ viii
1 ISLAMIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE: HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY ...........1
The Anthropology of Science ...................................... ...... ............4
Late-19th and Early-20th Century Debates..........................................8
The Contemporary Debate ............ ........................ ..................... 12
M modernization ............ .... ................ ................ .............. 14
Indigenization............................. ....... ........ 16
Summary ................. .................. ..................... .......... 23
Overview of Dissertation ................. ................ .................24
N otes ................... ........................................... ....... 27
2 THEORY AND METHOD: GLOBALIZATION AND MODERNITY............29
M o d e rn ity .............. ...................................... .... ............ 2 9
G lobalization........ ... ................... ..................... ......... 33
Research Design............ ... .. ............ ....................... ........... 40
R research Sites.............................................................. .....4 1
D ata Collection M ethods................................. .......... ........43
D ata A analysis ............ .... ................ .............................. 45
Notes............ ........................................................ 47
3 ISLAMIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE IN THE UNITED STATES..................50
M u slim s in A m erica ..................................................... ............ 51
IIIT ................. ....................... ..................... .......... 56
A New Direction................ ........................... ...............62
Post-GSISS W ork at IIIT ............ ........ ... .................64
G SIS S ........................................................................... 65
We Are Not the IIIT ....................................... .................66
Institutional Identity ........ ........ ...... ...... ...............68
The M making of the American Imam .......................... .............70
Different Schools of Thought ........................... .. ...............77
Conclusion........... ........................................... ........ .82
N otes.................................................... ........ .86
4 MALAYSIAN MODERNITY IN THE AGE OF GLOBALIZATION: CULTURAL
POLITICS AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF MUSLIM TECHNOSCIENTIFIC
ID E N T IT IE S ................................................................. ............ 92
Historical Development of M alaysia............ .... ...... ...... .... ....... .......94
Malaysian Modernity and the New Malay ......... .. ...................98
The D iscontents................................... ...................... .......... 104
Conclusion........... .................................................. 107
Notes ................... .................... ... .................. .... ........ 108
5 ISLAMIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE IN MALAYSIA.......................... 114
IIU M ................................................................. ........... 1 15
ISTA C ................... .................................... .. ....... 127
Conclusion.............................................. ........ .131
N otes ................... .................. ...... ........................... ... 134
6 ISLAM, SCIENCE, AND MODERNITY: A CONCLUSION ........................138
Islam and M odernity ................................................................. 142
G lobalization................... ............................................... 144
Conclusions......................... ...................... 145
LIFE HISTORY INTERVIEW GUIDE............................. 147
REFERENCES CITED .............. ............................... ................. 149
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............ ...................... .............. .. ........... 164
LIST OF FIGURES
1-1 The Islamization of Knowledge Work Plan of Al-Faruqi..........................26
1-2 Ijmali Concepts of Islamic Epistemology ........... ............. ................27
2-1 Summary of Fieldwork Completed and Data Collected .............................. 47
3-1 The Six Discourses of Al-Alwani.......... .................. .. ..... ....... 84
3-2 Organizational Chart for the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in
Leesburg, Virginia during Fall 1997 ........... ... .................... .......... ...85
3-3 The Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg, Virginia.......86
4-1 The National Science Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia........... .............. 109
4-2 The Main Mosque on the International Islamic University Campus in Gombak,
M alaysia...................................... ....................................... 109
4-3 The Space Science Display at the National Science Center in Kuala Lumpur,
M alaysia................... .................... ................... ..... ......... 110
4-4 Traditional Malay Kite Hanging above the Space Science Display at the National
Science Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia..............................................111
4-5 The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia........... ...............112
4-6 The KL Tower in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ........... ................ ...........113
5-1 A Courtyard at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization in
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia................................ ... ................... ........... 132
5-2 The Mosque at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization in
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia........... ......................... ............................. 133
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
ISLAM, SCIENCE, AND MODERNITY: FROM NORTHERN VIRGINIA TO
Christopher A. Furlow
Chair: Paul J. Magnarella
Major Department: Anthropology
The purpose of this dissertation is to describe and contextualize post-colonial
negotiations among contemporary Muslims by using science as a case. This research
project contributes to both the anthropology of science, technology, and medicine and
science and technology studies by improving knowledge of the practice and perception of
science in the Islamic world and among Muslims living in the West. This project also
contributes to anthropological understandings of globalization and modernity. Specifically,
this project examines the Islamization of knowledge debate through a multi-sited
ethnography of four institutions: (1) the International Institute of Islamic Thought in
Herndon, Virginia; (2) the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg,
Virginia; (3) the International Islamic University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia;
and (4) the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. At each
site, I collected (1) participant-observation data and (2) semi-structured and life history
interviews. I supplemented these data with an analysis of technical and popular literature.
The Islamization of knowledge debate constitutes one locus for Muslim
intellectuals' re-evaluation of the meaning and relevance of "Islam," "science," and
"modernity." I have described three philosophical positions within the debate, which I
labeled modernization, indigenization, and nativization. Each position offers differing
answers to fundamental questions surrounding the debate.
On the ground and apart from its main protagonists, the Islamization of
knowledge is less rigidly definable into neat epistemological categories. Individual
participants are attracted either by the philosophical ideas or, just as likely, by a desire to
affiliate themselves with ideas and institutions where they can express their Islamic
The most significant conclusion is that the institutional (think-tank, small
graduate school, and large university) and national (American and Malaysian) contexts
have a significant impact on the operational implementation of the philosophical
positions held within the Islamization of knowledge debate. The answers proposed by
the Muslim intellectuals engaged in the Islamization of knowledge debate are interrelated
with the local and global contexts of knowledge production and reproduction in which
they are situated.
ISLAMIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE: HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY
The purpose of this dissertation is to describe and contextualize post-colonial
negotiations among contemporary Muslims by using science as a case. This research
project contributes to both science and technology studies and the anthropology of science
by improving knowledge of the practice and perception of science outside the Euro-
American context. This project also contributes to the anthropological understandings of
globalization and modernity. Specifically, this project examines the Islamization of
knowledge debate concerning the legitimacy and relevance of Islam and science as means
to address the particular needs of the Islamic world. The Islamization of knowledge debate
constitutes one locus for Muslim intellectuals' re-evaluation of the meaning and relevance
of "Islam," "science," and "modernity."
Science and Islam are much alike in that they are both global in scope, make
universalist claims about the world, and are the focus of much angst and
misunderstanding.1 Today, a growing number of Muslim scholars have noticed this and
are attempting to merge these two seemingly contradictory worldviews. At the same
time, other Muslims are arguing that while Islam is valid and has a place in individuals'
lives it has no place meddling with science. This debate over the Islamization of
knowledge2 has sparked controversy, conferences, publications, and the founding of
centers and institutes. While the debate appears highly intellectual, at the same time it is
also highly political. At stake is the right to define the bounds of Islam in science and
society and to represent and mobilize the histories of Islam and science for contemporary
The intellectual side of the debate centers around the question "what roles can and
should Islam and science play in society?" However, it is clear that the sub-text of the
debate centers partly around the question "what political course should Muslims and
Muslim nation-states pursue-Wester-style modernism, Islamic radicalism, or some kind
of middle-ground reformism?"
While many views are represented in this debate, two poles can be identified:
Islamic traditionalism and Euro-American secular modernism. The extreme traditionalist
position advocates the return to the original Islamic civilization as it existed in the time of
the Prophet Muhammad, while the extreme modernist position advocates the total imitation
of Euro-American civilization (Furlow 1996).
The contemporary revival of Islam is viewed by many in both the West and the
Muslim world as anti-modernist, anti-rationalist, and anti-science. However, a brief
examination of the Islamization of knowledge debate challenges this overly simplistic
assertion. Boullata (1990:4), for example, discusses traditionalist intellectuals who
"advocate the elimination of all external cultural influences" and "call for a return to the
original, pristine essence of Islam as they perceive it to have been in the early centuries."
Despite this, these traditionalists "do not negate science and rationalism but consider them
to be modem products of the earlier efforts of Muslims during the heyday of Islamic
civilization, and they teach those products must be reacquired" (Boullata 1990:4). The
deference that these extremely anti-Western intellectuals give to science and technology
shows the extent to which the belief in science and technology transcends cultural
differences. While not all parties fully agree on the relative merits of science, all groups
feel compelled to address the question of science.
This project documents the ways that contemporary Muslims conceptualize
"science" and "Islam" within the Islamization of knowledge debate as they seek to
construct an Islamic modernity and how their constructions are interrelated with "local"
and "global" socio-cultural, political, and intellectual factors. Specifically, the project
consists of a multi-sited ethnography of Muslim institutions where the Islamization of
knowledge is being debated and advocated in Northern Virginia in the United States and
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The institutions include (1) the Graduate School of Islamic and
Social Sciences (GSISS) in Leesburg, Virginia; (2) the International Institute of Islamic
Thought (IIIT) in Herndon, Virginia; (3) the International Islamic University of Malaysia
(IIUM) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and (4) the International Institute of Islamic Thought
and Civilization (ISTAC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
These sites, which include three institutions of higher education and one think-tank,
represent key sites where an Islamic modernity is being constructed and contested. These
institutions offer privileged sites in which to view how social actors negotiate,
operationalize, implement, and sometimes subvert state and community policies and goals.
States and local communities train and socialize modem citizens at educational institutions.
At the same time, educators and students often have different agendas than the state and
community. Furthermore, by examining multiple sites, it is possible to examine how
variation in local, institutional, and national contexts contributes to the reproduction and
transformation of knowledge and identity.
Given the political influence of intellectuals in the developing world and given the
attacks of September 11, 2001, carried out by Muslim terrorists and the global war on
terrorism that has followed, the outcome of this debate has significant ramifications for
the political and social policies Muslim nation-states pursue and the ways that Muslims
living in the West choose to live their lives, educate their children, and participate in
society. Indeed, in Malaysia, political and educational leaders are central players in both
the academic side of the debate and in policy-making concerning the role that science and
Islam play in society.
The Anthropology of Science
Over the last decade and a half, anthropologists have devoted increasing attention
to the practice and perception of science. Michael Fischer (1991:525) points to science
as one of three "broad areas of opportunity" for anthropological study. Annette Weiner,
in her 1993 Presidential address to the American Anthropological Association (AAA),
claimed that anthropological studies of science will lead to important discoveries about
our contemporary world while helping anthropologists bridge their own internal
differences. The anthropology of science was featured in the Annual Review of
Anthropology (Franklin 1995). And the Committee for the Anthropology of Science,
Technology, and Computing (CASTAC) within the General Anthropology Division of
the AAA serves as an institutional nexus for anthropologists of science.
The emergence of the anthropology of science occurred simultaneously with the
rise of science and technology studies (STS). STS, which is dominated by Western-
oriented disciplines of history, philosophy, and sociology, has focused almost exclusively
on Euro-American science. Anthropologists of science have followed the example set by
STS researchers, and, with few exceptions (e.g., Furlow 1996; Hess 1991; Laughlin 1995;
Shrum and Shenhav 1995; 1988; Traweek 1995; Watson-Verran and Tumbull 1995), have
also concentrated on Euro-American science. Thus, researchers have ignored the majority
of socio-cultural contexts in which science is practiced. This project will improve
knowledge of the practice and perception of science outside the Euro-American context by
examining the interaction of science and society in one non-Eurocentric context-the
Islamization of knowledge debate.
The examination of the intersection of the "local" and "global" contexts of
knowledge production is central to this project. Franklin (1995) identifies two major
strands of research in the anthropology of science-cultures of science and science as
culture. In studies of cultures of science, researchers examine the thoughts and behaviors
of scientists in traditional scientific settings like laboratories and research institutes (e.g.,
Latour and Woolgar 1986; Traweek 1988). Early studies treated laboratories as if they
were "bounded" communities possessing "local knowledge," and the focus of research was
on intemalist studies of scientific practice and discourse. Substantive contributions of
researchers studying cultures of science include greater understandings of the processual
nature of knowledge formation and experimentation, the social structure of laboratories,
internal scientific communication, and the production of scientific texts (e.g., Clark and
Fujimura 1992; Knorr Cetina 1981; Latour and Woolgar 1986; Lynch, Livingstone, and
Garfinkel 1983; Pickering 1992; Traweek 1988). However, these studies often ignored the
broader social and political contexts.
Studies of science as culture examine the ways that science transcends its traditional
settings like laboratories and becomes embedded in society (e.g., Haraway 1989; Martin
1994a; 1994b). Bruno Latour's (1987) actor-network theory proposes that "technoscience"
is best understood as multiple, competing networks that include both people and things.
The people involved in the production of science are not limited to scientists. Collins and
Pinch (1979), for example, include both constitutive forums (or scientific forums like labs)
and contingent forums which may include individuals in corporations, the media,
government agencies, engineering firms, and so forth depending on the particular case.
Latour and others have also demonstrated the importance of including broader
social factors in analyses of science (e.g., Callon, Law, and Rip 1986; Haraway 1989;
Latour 1987). Moreover, the complexity of studying "science in the making" (Latour
1987) has led to new methodological approaches.
Perhaps the most significant technique is the multi-sited ethnography. Franklin
(1995) notes the shift of anthropological studies of science from ethnographies of the lab
which looked at science as local, bounded cultures, what Martin (1998) calls citadels, to
multi-sited ethnographies. The trend toward multi-sited ethnographies is increasingly
prevalent in many areas of anthropology that examine the "circulation of cultural meanings,
objects, and identities" through the world system (Marcus 1995:96).
Emily Martin's (Martin 1994a; 1994b) study of immunology in American society
is perhaps the most mature multi-sited ethnography (Marcus 1995). Martin followed
immunological concepts as they moved and changed from context to context-from
science lab, to AIDS activist group, to medical interns, to the media. Martin's findings that
could not be duplicated by a community-based, single-site ethnography clearly demonstrate
the utility of multi-sited ethnographies for studying complex and dispersed cultural objects.
Central to the argument for multi-sited ethnographies is the effect of the world
system in local cultural production. For example, the shift toward multi-sited
ethnographies in studies of science is motivated by the realization that laboratories and
research centers are parts of dispersed, global networks. Similarly, globalization and
transnationalism direct anthropological attention to the global flow of people, capital,
information, symbols, and commodities (Kearney 1995).
The conceptualization of a system of global networks of people, culture, and capital
in which the boundaries between core and periphery dissolve is a significant change from
earlier hierarchical models of a world system (Kearney 1995) and is similar to Latour's
(1987) conceptualization of technoscientific networks.
The Muslims, institutes, universities, professional associations, conferences,
books, and journals involved in the Islamization of knowledge debate constitute several
overlapping and interrelated global networks and are best conceptualized as global spaces
where "local" and "global" factors simultaneously influence and are influenced by
knowledge production. This project describes and traces these global networks through a
multi-sited ethnography of specific sites or nodes involved in the Islamization of
In this introduction, I describe the history and philosophical underpinnings of the
contemporary Islamization of knowledge debate. I argue that Muslim intellectuals
engaged in the Islamization of knowledge advocate one of three distinct philosophical
positions that I have previously labeled the modernization, indigenization, and
nativization approaches (Furlow 1996). After a discussion of similar debates during the
late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, I describe these three approaches in terms of
their philosophies, legitimation strategies, and political implications. I conclude the
chapter with a brief outline of the dissertation.
Late-19th and Early-20th Century Debates
The current debate is the latest of many attempts to reform Islam and mirrors
earlier debates about Islam and modernism which took place during the late-nineteenth
and early-twentieth centuries among Muslim secularists, Islamic modernists, and
traditionalist ulama. The Muslim secularists sought to relegate Islam to an individual,
moral level while advocating the imitation of Western scientific, technological, and
political models. The traditionalist ulama, in contrast, sought to retreat from the West by
returning to an Islamic society based on the model of the early Islamic community at the
time of the Prophet Muhammad. In between the extremes of the secularists and the
traditionalists were the Islamic modernists whom I will discuss in some detail.
The Islamic modernists voiced several themes that reappear in the contemporary
Islamization of knowledge debate. First, the Islamic modernists asserted the primacy of
the original Islamic sources-the Qur 'an and the Sunnah-above all others. Second,
they sought to re-establish the practice of ijtihad, the interpretation of Islamic sources to
make judgements regarding Islamic law, and reduce taqlid, the blind imitation of
traditional interpretations. Thus, they rejected the assertion by Islamic jurists in the tenth
century that continued ijtihad was unnecessary because Islamic law was fully realized.
Third, the Islamic modernists advocated the continued relevance of Islam in the modern
world and the assimilation of the universal principals of Islam and the best of Western
science and technology in order to meet the challenge of the European colonialism. They
sought neither to reject the West and restore an idealized, historical Islamic society, like
the traditionalist ulama, nor to relegate Islam to a personal, moral level, like the Muslim
secularists. Fourth, the Islamic modernists asserted, as did the traditionalist ulama, the
self-sufficiency of Islam. However, the Islamic modernists differed with the community
by modernizing Islam within the constraints of British colonial rule (Esposito 1984;
Ahmad Khan's practical program of modernization was directed at both the
structural (through founding institutions) and ideological (through a concerted
traditionalists over what constituted Islam. The most influential Islamic modernists
include Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, and Rashid
Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98) was an Indian Muslim from an established family
who worked for the British East India Company. Following the failed "Indian Mutiny of
1857" and convinced of the futility of Islamic revolts, Ahmad Khan chose to reform the
Muslim reinterpretation of Islam) levels. Khan's structural interventions include
founding the Scientific Society in 1864 that translated Western texts into Urdu and the
Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College modeled on Cambridge University in 1874. The
purpose of the College was to teach Muslims Western disciplines alongside the Islamic
heritage thus demonstrating their compatibility (Esposito 1984).3
At the ideological level, Khan advocated the modernization of Islam through
direct interpretation of the original Islamic sources-ijtihad. The new interpretations
would utilize the universal principles of Islam to solve modern problems. Khan saw no
contradiction between Islam and science. Khan rejected the static, legalistic Islam as
promulgated by the ulama. Instead, Khan viewed Islam as the religion of reason and
nature. For Ahmad Khan, as Esposito (1984:53) states: "There could be no contradiction
between the Word of God (Qur 'an) and the Work of God (Nature)." Therefore, Western
science and technology were translated into resources that were both relevant and
Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-97) traveled throughout the Islamic world from
Egypt to India promoting Islamic reform and unity. Al-Afghani, like Khan, called for
both a return to the original sources of Islam and the adoption of Western science,
technology, and political institutions (Barakat 1993). However, unlike Khan, al-Afghani
advocated the overthrow of colonialism and the formation of an Islamic state. According
to Esposito (1984:47), "Afghani believed that Muslim revitalization could be
achieved not by ignoring or rejecting the West but by direct, active engagement and
Al-Afghani's goals were political, and his approach was activist. Although al-
Afghani's pan-Islamic dreams of liberation and reunification of the Islamic world were
unattainable, his ideas greatly influenced many Muslim reformers including Muhammad
Abduh and Rashid Rida (Esposito 1984).
Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), like Khan and al-Afghani, advocated both a
return to the original sources of Islam and the adaptation of Islam to modern
circumstances. As Barakat (1993:244) states, Abduh's "call for a return to the original
sources of Islam was matched only by his ardent insistence on the need to adapt to the
requirements of modem life." This adaptation included the pragmatic decision to work
within the framework of British colonial rule in Egypt (Barakat 1993; Esposito 1984).
The adaptation of Islam was to be obtained through ijtihad and, like Ahmad Khan
in India, implemented through educational reforms. These reforms included the teaching
of Islamic and Western knowledge in the same schools and were aimed at demonstrating
the relevance of Islam to modem thought and society (Barakat 1993; Esposito 1984).
Abduh held the highest religious-legal office in Egypt. As Mufti, Abduh was in
charge of Egypt's .\/h,1 i/h (religious) law courts and pioneered a reform of Islamic law in
Egypt and used his reinterpretation of Islamic law to legitimize his social reform agenda.
An important justification was Abduh's division of Islamic law into two realms: duties to
God (which were eternal and unchangeable) and social duties and regulations (which
were open to new interpretations as conditions changed). Abduh used this distinction to
great effect with regard to his social reform agenda which included his educational
reforms and women's rights (Barakat 1993; Esposito 1984).
Rashid Rida (1865-1935), a colleague of Abduh, also advocated a return to the
original Islamic sources. However, after the death of Abduh, Rida became increasingly
critical of the West and of other Islamic modernists like Qasim Amin, Lufti al-Sayyid,
and Saad Zaghlul who had moved toward a secular, Egyptian nationalism. Rida, in
contrast, moved away from Western ideas by advocating the self-sufficiency of Islam as
embodying a complete way of life. While Al-Afghani had espoused a similar view in his
fight against Western colonialism and imperialism, Rida's position was much more
conservative eventuating in his complete rejection of anything Western. "From being an
Islamic modernist, Rida had become an Islamic fundamentalist ideologue" (Esposito
To summarize, the Islamic modernists though ideologically diverse held a core of
beliefs emphasizing the primacy of the Qur 'an and Sunnah, ijtihad, the integration of
Islamic principles and Western science and technology, and the self-sufficiency of Islam.
These beliefs emerged in the context of the fight against European colonialism and a
debate with Muslim secularists and traditionalist ulama about the role of Islam and
Western science in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Muslim world. The
Islamic modernist themes reappear in the contemporary Islamization of knowledge
debates to which I now turn.
The Contemporary Debate
In the earlier debate, Muslims were responding to European colonialism.4 For the
contemporary Islamization of knowledge debate, decolonization, development, and, more
recently, globalization and modernity form the broad contexts. Within this context, the
newly independent Muslim countries viewed European-style education as the key to
development (Faksh 1977; Shami 1989). According to McDonald (1986:59), who
studied Egyptian education and development, "education came to be universally
recognized as a major determinant of individual and societal progress toward the goal of
modernization and an essential component of development." This view that education
and development are directly linked continues to be a dominant theme in much of the
world and can be found in the official rhetoric of many Third World governments
It is ironic that Middle Eastern countries viewed European-style education as the
chosen route to development because a long Arab/Islamic educational tradition already
existed. The oldest university in the Middle East, Al-Azhar University in Cairo, was
founded in 970 A.D. and still flourishes today as part of Egypt's system of national
Despite this, European-style educational institutions opened and operated
alongside of the religious educational system. These systems were mutually exclusive
and in competition with one another with the religious schools providing basic education
and religious training to the masses and government schools providing European-style
education to the elite (Faksh 1980).
A product of this dual system of education is a cultural rift between those who are
more traditionally oriented and those who are more Euro-American oriented (Faksh
1980; Radwan 1951). This rift has culminated in what some scholars have described as a
civilizational crisis (see Abaza and Stauth 1990; Boullata 1990; Dekmejian 1980;
Dhaoudi 1990; Laroui 1976). According to these scholars, the civilizational crisis is a
crisis of legitimacy and identity resulting from the failure of Muslim countries to provide
effective rulers, achieve development and social justice, succeed in confrontations with
Israel, Zionism, and the West, and is a direct result of colonialism and Westernization.
Dekmejian (1980:8) writes that "by the late 1960s due to the confluence of these catalytic
factors a multi-dimensional crisis situation was engulfing the Arab and Islamic countries,
which continues to dominate their social and political life today."
The Islamization of knowledge debate emerged within the context of the
perceived crisis of Islamic civilization and is one response to this crisis. The participants
in this debate are not homogeneous. While all the participants are Muslims, they include
individuals who are both Western trained and Islamically trained, who reside throughout
the Muslim diaspora and within the Muslim world.5 All are scholars or professionals of
one sort or another and are employed in universities or other research centers and
institutes.6 Muslims engaged in this debate propose three different philosophical
approaches that I label modernization, indigenization, and nativization.
The advocates of the modernist approach to science hold that science is value-
free, neutral, and objective. Any values which surround science are primarily personal in
nature and therefore do not affect the content of science. While arguably most Muslim
scientists hold this view (1985; Sardar 1988), only a few participate in the Islamization of
knowledge debate. Among these, two physicists, Muhammad Abdus Salam and Jamal
Mimouni, represent the modernist approach of science most forcefully.
The modernists have a two-tiered legitimation strategy-they attempt to construct
modern, i.e., Euro-American, science, as both Islamically authentic and as relevant to the
problems of contemporary Islamic civilization. Each tier is, in turn, based on two
The modernists construct the Islamic authenticity of science on two premises.
First, the Qur 'an and the Prophet Muhammad both advocate the search for knowledge.
And second, modern science is a part of the Islamic legacy.
To demonstrate Islamic legitimacy, the modernists quote extensively both the
Qur 'an and the Prophet Muhammad. For example, Abdus Salam (1989:135) states:
Seven hundred and fifty verses of the Quran (almost one eighth of the Book)
exhort believers "to study Nature, to reflect, to make the best use of reason in
their search for the ultimate and to make the acquisition of knowledge and
scientific comprehension part of the community's life." The Holy Prophet of
Islam (peace be upon Him) emphasized that the "quest for knowledge (and
sciences) is obligatory upon every Muslim, Man and Woman."
Abdus Salam also argues that modern science is part of the Islamic legacy. He
argues that the transition from the medievalists to the modernists occurred during the
"Golden Age of Science in Islam" around 1000 AD. According to Abdus Salam, Ibn al-
Haitham and Al-Biruni were the first modernists, i.e., empirical scientists. Next he cites
Euro-American authorities on the history of science, Brifault and Sarton, who back his
point. Mimouni (1987:87) follows Abdus Salam's construction of modem science as a
Graeco-Islamic legacy and states that the "natural sciences are as Islamic as Nature could
The third and fourth steps attempt to demonstrate the relevance of modem science
and technology to solving the problems of Islamic civilization. First, the modernists
emphasize the success of modern science by pointing to Euro-American success and to
the development of non-Euro-American countries like Japan. And second, the
modernists argue that the decline of science in the Islamic world is responsible for the
lack of success of Islamic civilization.
According to the modernists, the cause of the decline of science is partly due to
external influences, partly due to the faults of Muslim scientists, but mainly due to the
ulama, or traditional religious scholars, and other advocates of Islam. According to
Abdus Salam (1989), the reinvigoration of science depends on both scientific freedom
and the existence of a critical mass of practitioners. If Muslim nations "decide to support
Science and create considerable self-contained and internally-free bodies of scientists,
Science will do well. Democracy in the society as a whole is not essential for its
flourishing: democracy and openness (plus generous patronage) within the scientific
community is essential" (Abdus Salam 1989:134).
The political implications are obvious. The modernists are politically
conservative. While it is the responsibility of the government to allow scientists the
freedom and independence necessary for the success of the scientific enterprise, the
government need not be democratic. Science can flourish under any style of government.
The second approach is the indigenization approach. The indigenists' goal is the
production of knowledge relevant to the specific problems of Islamic countries. While
the indigenists argue that the Euro-American model of science cannot work when
adopted uncritically, they are not willing to discard the whole enterprise.
The indigenists hold that the crisis of the Islamic civilization resulted from the
division of knowledge into what might be called "rational" or "modern" sciences and
Islamic sciences-a system institutionalized in contemporary, Muslim educational
systems. The indigenists argue that educational reform is needed in order to re-unify
knowledge. The reformed educational systems will produce individuals who have a
unified knowledge of both rational and Islamic science that is relevant to the Islamic
civilization. While several indigenization models exist, the two most distinct models are
the model proposed by the late Ismail Al-Faruqi and the imitation-innovation-
assimilation model proposed by S. Waqar A. Husaini.
In his book Islamization ofKnowledge: General Principles and Work Plan, Al-
Faruqi (1982) outlined his vision for the Islamization of knowledge.7 This model is
championed by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) and the Association
of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS). Al-Faruqi's model was revised and expanded after
his death in a second edition by Abu Sulayman (1989) and revised again by Taha J. Al-
For this group, the political, economic, and cultural spheres reflect a civilizational
malaise; and European colonization, in various forms, is directly responsible. The core of
the crisis is a crisis of intellectual thought and methodology that is closely linked to the
educational system's lack of Islamic vision. The solution is to reform education by
integrating the Islamic and European-style educational systems (AbuSulayman 1989).
The integration of the curriculum will occur through the Islamization of the social
sciences. The indigenists argue that Islamization will unite objectivity and values which
are separated in the Euro-American classification of knowledge into the social sciences
and the humanities but which can not be separated in an Islamic classification (Al-Faruqi
1981). This synthesis of objectivity and values will occur at the disciplinary level
utilizing Al-Faruqi's twelve-step work plan or, more likely, a variation thereof.
In the work plan itself (see Figure 1-1), Al-Faruqi emphasizes establishing first
the relevance of Islam to the modern disciplines and second the relevance of the resultant
indigenized knowledge to the solution of both the problems of the Ummah, or Islamic
community, and the problems of all humankind.
For this group, Islamic methodology is founded on a few basic Islamic tenets.
"These principles constitute the framework of Islamic thought and methodology; they are
the lighthouse that guides Islamic mentality, psychological build-up and personality in
academic and everyday life" (AbuSulayman 1989:33). Foremost among these is the
principle of tawhid or the unity of Allah. Essentially, this means that there is no god but
Allah, and everything derives from Allah. Following this first principle and derived from
it are the principles of the unity of creation, the unity of truth and unity of knowledge, the
unity of life, the unity of humanity, and the complementary nature of revelation and
reason (AbuSulayman 1989). Individual scholars are responsible for the development
and use of an Islamic methodology appropriate for their discipline.
Al-Alwani (1995) lists three specific goals of the IIIT group: (1) to reintegrate
knowledge and values, (2) to link Allah's two sources of knowledge-His revelation (the
Qur 'an) and His creation (the natural universe), and (3) to redirect Western philosophy's
concern with the problem of ends toward the recognition that this problem is limitless.
According to Al-Alwani, any true account of the universe needs to combine readings
from both sources.
To undertake a reading of either without reference to the other will neither benefit
humanity nor lead it to the sort of comprehensive knowledge necessary for the
building and maintenance of civilized society or to knowledge worthy of
preservation and further development or exchange. (Al-Alwani 1995:85)
While the IIIT approach creates a new Islamic methodology derived from Islamic
principles, S. Waqar A. Husaini, an engineer, utilizes the Islamic law--,\l/ir/l/ t For
Husaini's imitative-innovative assimilation model, ,\/hi i, a/ provides the normative
criteria from which decisions about what Western science and technology can be
assimilated by Islamic civilization without compromising the Umma's (Islamic
community's) integrity (Husaini 1980).
Husaini, like the IIIT approach and the approaches of Khan and Abduh, argues
that education is now divided into two types of disciplines: ulum aqaliyya (rational
sciences) and ulum .,\/Nh ta/i (religious sciences, literally sciences of Islamic law). Again
like the IIIT, Husaini views the reintegration of education as the key to ending the
contemporary crisis in Islamic civilization (1981; Husaini 1985).
The difference between Husaini's plan and the IIIT plan is who will reconstruct
Islamic civilization once the educational system is reintegrated. In the IIIT plan, the
social scientists are responsible for both reforming education and society. In Husaini's
plan, while social scientists and humanists work together to reform education, scientists
and engineers reform society because Husaini believes "they are the main agents of
change in socio-economic development and industrialization" (Husaini 1981:153).
Husaini proposes a three-step plan to reintegrate education: (1) the integration of
the humanities and social sciences with Islamic ideology, (2) the integration of the new
Islamic humanistic-social sciences with science and technology, and (3) the integration of
techno-humanistic and techno-social science disciplines with Islamic ideology.
According to Husaini, the reformed educational system, which reunites the rational ulum
aqaliyya and the religious ulum .,\ha i iya, will produce individuals who are
knowledgeable in ,\/,i /i/ h and science and technology and, therefore, are capable science
and technology policy-makers (1981; Husaini 1985).
Husaini and the IIIT plans are similar in many respects. Most significantly, each
plan focuses on reforming the education system by integrating rational and Islamic
disciplines to produce individuals with knowledge relevant to the contemporary problems
in the Islamic world.
The plans differ in respect to which disciplines get "Islamized," how the
disciplines get Islamized, and who become policy-makers. The IIIT plan proposes the
Islamization of only the social sciences and humanities using an Islamic methodology
based on Islamic principles found in the Qur 'an and Sunnah with scholars from those
disciplines becoming policy-makers. Husaini, in contrast, proposes the Islamization of
all disciplines. Husaini's model uses Islamic law, .l/ia, ia/i, as the normative criteria for
decision-making on what Western science and technology can be assimilated.
Interestingly in Husaini's plan, the social scientists and humanists do most of the
Islamization work while the scientists and engineers become the policy-makers.
For their vision to be adopted, the advocates of each plan need to gain support
from potential allies, i.e., social scientists, humanists, natural scientists, the ulama,
government officials, etc. The IIIT group attracts social scientists and humanists by
giving these disciplines the central role in reforming the education and ultimately society
at a time when these disciplines are viewed as inferior to the natural sciences in the
Middle East (Shami 1989). This strategy also contests the reality of the perceived failure
of the education for development model (Albornoz 1989; 1977; Faksh 1980; McDonald
According to Seteney Shami (1989), a Jordanian anthropologist who is not
involved in the Islamization debate, the legitimacy of the social sciences and social
scientists stems from their role as educators, as conveyors of knowledge. Thus, the
perceived crisis in the education for development model is extremely detrimental to the
legitimacy of educators, particularly in countries like Egypt where education has played a
central role in development policy. This explains why the construction of "Islamized"
knowledge as knowledge relevant to contemporary problems is central to the IIIT model.
While the IIIT plan does little to attract natural scientists, it also does little to
ruffle their feathers. The IIIT position is that the natural sciences are objective
disciplines that, except for a few areas like evolutionary biology, do not contradict
Islamic principles.8 In fact, Jamal Mimouni (1987:88), an advocate of the modernist
position discussed above, suggests that the IIIT approach that Islamizes the social
sciences and humanities is welcome and needed. Mimouni states, "social sciences are
much more subjective [than natural sciences] and their ideological implications lie much
deeper, and so they are legitimately the prime object for the Islamisation project."
While the ulama, similarly, do not lose anything and gain the prospect of having
Islam play an increasingly central role in education and development, government
officials are reassured that the Islamization of knowledge is a long process that will take
generations. Government officials are also reassured that the IIIT is an apolitical institute
Husaini's model differs slightly in orientation. While Husaini's model offers
social scientists and humanists a large role in reforming education and teaching scientists
and engineers, the scientists and engineers benefit by becoming the policy-makers.
Husaini's model, like the IIIT model, re-legitimizes the education for development
model. However, for social scientists and humanists it maintains and reaffirms their role
as conveyors of rather than as producers of knowledge and establishes relevant
knowledge as the exclusive purview of scientists and engineers.
Husaini's model follows the IIIT model concerning the ulama and the go slow
approach to reform (1981; Husaini 1985). For the indigenists, political change consists
primarily of structural changes in education though Islam does play an increasingly
important role in society and politics.
The nativization approach is a third philosophical position advocated by Muslim
intellectuals engaged in the Islamization of science debate. The advocates of a
nativization approach hold that the modernist model of science is a product of Western
civilization and is embedded in the Western worldview. According to the advocates of
nativization, the modernist model of science cannot solve the problems of Islamic
civilization because it has a different worldview. Therefore, an authentic Islamic science
is needed to solve the problems of Islamic civilization. For the nativists, Islamic science
is not an adaptation of the modernist model of science. Rather, Islamic science is a new
and different science that must be built upon an Islamic epistemological foundation.
Two main models of a nativization approach exist-the Ijmali model and the S.
H. Nasr model. Their visions of Islam are competing for the right to represent authentic
Islam that is central to the concept of nativization. The Ijmali vision is a more traditional
Islamic vision while Nasr's vision incorporates aspects of Sufi mysticism.
The Ijmalis, led by Ziauddin Sardar, S. Parvez Manzoor, and Munawar A. Anees,
advocate one nativist position. They provide a strong critique of Western science at the
epistemological level and attempt to demarcate appropriate Islamic concepts upon which
to reconstruct science. The Ijmalis aim at synthesis within the framework of Islamic
aesthetics. Sardar (1984:72) describes Islamic science this way:
It is essentially a subjectively objective enterprise: objective solutions to
normative goals and problems are sought within an area mapped out by the
eternal values and concepts of Islam. In Islamic science, both the ends and means
of science are dictated by the ethical system of Islam .... It is a systematic,
rigorous pursuit of truth, a rational and objective problem solving enterprise that
seeks to understand the whole of Reality. It is wholistic and is founded on
For the Ijmalis, the concepts of Islamic epistemology are located in the Qur 'an
and the Sunnah. "Tawheed," or the "unity of God," is the unifying principle of Islamic
epistemology. Four other concepts and three pairs of opposed concepts form the
remainder of the primary concepts of Islamic epistemology (see Figure 1-2). These
Islamic concepts provide the holistic and interrelated foundation on which the Ijmalis
want to construct a rejuvenated Islamic science. The Ijmalis seek to apply universal
Islamic concepts to the contemporary situation to achieve an authentic Islamic science
that is relevant to and can address the issues of the modem Islamic civilization from
within its own worldview.
The second nativistic model is that of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and a small group,
most notably Osman Bakar.9 In Nasr's (1978) view, the goal of Islamic science is "the
demonstration of the interrelatedness of all things" (p.4). The first step toward an Islamic
science is to stop imitating the way the West studies Islamic science and to view Islamic
science "in an integral manner as part and parcel of the total Islamic intellectual tradition"
From Nasr's perspective, an Islamic science must be established according to
Islamic principles. For Nasr, the fundamental Islamic principles include
the sacredness of all 'ilm, the hierarchy of knowledge which places the knowledge
of God above any science of His creation, the inter-relatedness of all orders of
reality, the sacred character of the phenomena of nature as the signs (ayat) of
God, nature's participation in the Quranic revelation, the domination of the
vertical cause or the Divine Will over all horizontal causes without the negation
of these secondary causes. (Nasr 1985:7)
While most of these principles are similar to those of the Ijmalis and the other
advocates of the Islamization of science, Nasr is almost alone in his explicit extension of
credibility to the notion that ayat are interpretable from nature and that nature has a role
in Qur 'anic revelation.
Nasr's group's legitimation relies on authenticity and Nasr's own stature within
the Islamization of science movement. Early on, Nasr was successful using the strategy
of authenticity because his position was practically the only position. Nasr's best known
publications are probably his 1968 book Science and Civilization in Islam and his 1976
book Islamic Science: An Illustrated Study. Both the books were published before the
Islamization of science movement had begun in earnest. Nasr, therefore, had the only
claim of representing authentic Islam.
For Nasr, authentic Islam means the renewal of Islamic civilization as it was
during the Golden Age. This definition is quite different from the Ijmali definition which
relies on authenticity through the derivation of concepts directly from authoritative
Islamic sources-the Qur 'an and the Sunnah. It is this difference that has sparked the
harsh criticism of Nasr by the Ijmalis (see Sardar 1988).
The political implications of the nativization position are the most radical. The
nativists call for the rejection of Euro-American science and the formation of a new or
revitalized Islamic science and Islamic civilization from the ground up. This requires an
Islamic revolution though of an intellectual rather than a military sort.
Several themes link the contemporary Islamization of knowledge debate and the
earlier debates during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In both the
earlier and contemporary debates, arguments resolve around the relevance and
authenticity of science. For example, in the contemporary debate, each of the three
positions I discuss-modernization, indigenization, and nativization-construct science
as both relevant to contemporary problems and Islamically authentic. However,
advocates of each position use different strategies to legitimize their views.
There is also a call to return to the original sources of Islam-the Qur 'an and
Sunnah-combined with a renewed interest in ijtihad. Thus, debate participants must be
viewed as Islamic reformers who challenge the traditionalist ulama who declared an end
to ijtihad as unnecessary during the tenth century. Similarly, educational reforms which
re-unite European-style and Islamic education are viewed as a promising site for
The reformers of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries had limited
success. The success of the various positions represented within the Islamization debate
is yet to be determined. Each group of advocates is struggling to establish legitimacy
with the various groups and institutions that possess the power and authority to influence
and implement policy-decisions.
Overview of Dissertation
The Islamization of knowledge debate as a whole takes place within the broad
context of decolonization and development and within the intellectual milieu of post-
colonial negotiations between "nativizing" cultural traditions and "global" modernisms.
IOK, as an intellectual movement, is decades old. Discussions of IOK, sometimes
labeled Islamic Science, began officially in 1977 at two conferences: the World
Conference on Islamic Education held in Mecca and the first International Conference on
Islamization of Knowledge held in Switzerland. However, Muslim intellectuals, like
S.H. Nasr, Isma'il Al-Faruqi, S. Naquib Al-Attas among others, had been discussing
related issues beginning in the 50s and 60s. Similarly, the Muslim Student Association
(MSA), which has chapters on many university campuses in the United States and
Canada, had held a series of seminars between 1968 and 1977 on related issues (Barzinji
n.d.; Maiwada 1999).
During my field research in Northern Virginia and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I
have been struck constantly by the divergent ways that philosophical positions were
implemented in different institutional settings depending on their local and national
contexts. When I began my research on the contemporary debates about Islamic science
using published materials, it appeared each of the institutions that I eventually spent time
at held relatively unified positions. However, on the ground, it became clear that a
variety of discourses and identities, actors and intellectual positions were in play at each
site and that the local institutional and national contexts are critical to understanding the
variation in the operational implementation of IOK.
In chapter 2, I outline the theoretical framing for the ethnographic research and
describe the data collection and analysis methods used. I define and differentiate
between the theoretical concepts "modernity" and "globalization" and argue that both are
critical for understanding the diversity of intellectual positions present within the debate
and how the philosophical positions are implemented on the ground within different
institutional and national settings. In the methodological section, I argue that a multi-
sited research design created the ability to compare institutional settings within the debate
and how that added validity to my arguments.
In chapter 3, I examine the Islamization of knowledge in the United States.
Specifically, I describe my fieldwork at the Graduate School of Islamic and Social
Sciences (GSISS) and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). I focus on
how the original philosophical positions of the IIIT were transformed as they moved from
a think-tank institutional setting to the setting of a school of higher education.
Chapter 4 describes the national context of my Malaysian field research. I
examine in detail how the Malaysian national context differs markedly from the
American national context in terms of the role of Muslims and Islam in society and how
this impacts the way the philosophical positions within the Islamization of knowledge
debate get implemented at institutions of higher education.
In chapter 5, I describe and compare the actual implementation of the
philosophical positions at the International Islamic University, Malaysia (IIUM) and at
the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC). Of particular
interest is how the IUM, led at the time of my fieldwork by a former president of the
IIIT, implemented the IIIT-originated ideas within the Malaysian context.
Chapter 6 summarizes the key findings and frames the ethnographic work within
its theoretical contexts. The chapter will focus on how the local, institutional, and
national contexts impacted the different ways that philosophical positions in the
Islamization of knowledge debate were reproduced and transformed as they moved
between institutional settings in the United States and Malaysia.
Step 1: Mastering Modern Disciplines
Step 2: Disciplinary Survey
Step 3: Mastering Islamic Legacy
Step 4: Analysis of Islamic Legacy
Step 5: Establishing Relevance of Islam to Modern Disciplines
Step 6: Assessment of Modem Disciplines
Step 7: Assessment of Islamic Legacy
Step 8: Survey of Ummah's Problems
Step 9: Survey of Humanity's Problems
Step 10: Analysis and Synthesis
Step 11: Recasting the Disciplines: Textbooks
Step 12: Dissemination of Islamized Knowledge
Figure 1-1. The Islamization of Knowledge Work Plan of Al-Faruqi.
Tawheed Unity of Allah; the unifying principle of Islamic epistemology
Khilafat Trusteeship of the world given to man by Allah
Ilm Islamic concept of knowledge that includes both concepts and
values and is discoverable through reason and revelation
Ibadah Worship; the acquisition of 'ilm is a form of worship
Adl Equity or justice; is opposed to zulm
Halal Permissible; is opposed to haram
Istislah Public interest; is opposed to dhiya
Figure 1-2. Ijmali Concepts of Islamic Epistemology.
1 The late Ernest Gellner (1992) suggested that three ideological options exist today:
religious fundamentalism, relativism, and Enlightenment rationalism. While the main
thrust of Gellner's argument is that from his perspective as an adherent of Enlightenment
rationalism these three positions are distinct and irreducible, he noted the similarity
between the absolutist tendencies of religious fundamentalism and enlightenment
rationalism. The contemporary Islamization of knowledge debate is a site where the
inconsistency and distinctiveness of Gellner's three positions are being contested.
2 Some prefer the term Islamic Science (see Rahman 1985). I prefer Islamization of
knowledge because it is more encompassing.
3 Today, the College, renamed Aligarh Muslim University in 1920, houses the Centre for
Studies on Science (CSOS) that is a leading center in the Islamization of knowledge
4 Colonialism lasted as late as the early 1970s in parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
5 Interestingly, many of the debate participants reside outside the traditional Middle East.
Individuals in South Asia, (particularly India, Pakistan, and Malaysia), Britain, and the
United States dominate the debate.
6 Major centers of the debate include the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT)
in Herndon, Virginia, USA; the Center for Studies on Science (CSOS) in Aligarh, India;
the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Standing Committee on Scientific and
Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) in Islamabad, Pakistan; the International
Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; the OIC affiliated
Islamic Scientific, Educational, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) in Rabat, Morocco;
and the Islamic Foundation for Science, Technology, and Development (IFSTAD) in
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
7 For a brief biography of Ismail Al-Faruqi see Esposito (1991a).
8 Interestingly, Maurice Bucaille (1989) argues that the Qur 'an reveals many modern
scientific theories and that Islam is more scientific than Christianity based on a
comparison of the Qur 'an and Bible.
9 For a biography of Seyyed Hossein Nasr see Smith (1991).
THEORY AND METHOD: GLOBALIZATION AND MODERNITY
This project documents the ways that contemporary Muslims conceptualize
"science" and "Islam" within the Islamization of knowledge debate as they seek to
construct an Islamic modernity and how their constructions are interrelated with "local"
and "global" socio-cultural, political, and intellectual factors. The examination of the
intersection of the "local" and "global" contexts of knowledge production and reproduction
is central to this project. At the ethnographic level, I am interested in the ways that ideas
are formed and transformed as they move across institutional and national borders. This
chapter outlines the theoretical and methodological tools used in this study. Two
theoretical concepts and one methodological tactic are central to this project: modernity,
globalization, and multi-sited ethnography. In this chapter I will differentiate these
concepts and specify how they relate to the Islamization of knowledge.
Many of the same scholars and scholarly works are cited in the literatures on both
modernity and globalization.1 While both modernity and globalization are used in
contemporary anthropological literature, modernity has a much longer history in the social
sciences and sociology in particular.2
Gaonkar (2001)identifies two strands of modernity in classic social theory derived
from studies of the West: (1) societal modernization and (2) cultural modernity. Societal
modernization involves both social and cognitive transformations. The social
transformations include "the emergence and institutionalization of market-driven industrial
economies, bureaucratically administered states, modes of popular government, rule of law,
mass media, and increased mobility, literacy, and urbanization"(Gaonkar 2001:2). The
cognitive transformations include "the growth of scientific consciousness, the development
of a secular outlook, the doctrine of progress, the primacy of instrumental rationality, the
fact-value split, individualistic understandings of the self, contractualist understandings of
society, and so on" (Gaonkar 2001:1-2).
The societal modernization strand of modernity is linked to the development of
capitalism in the West and is well described by Max Weber (1958 ) among others.
For Weber, societal modernization consisted of the dual processes of change and
routinization. Society was in a state of constant change at the same time many sectors of
society were being routinized and standardized through the process of a particular type of
rationalization-purposive-instrumental rationality or means/end rationality. The
rationalization of society resulted in many material improvements. However, Weber also
viewed purposive-instrumental rationality as value-neutral and thus argued that this type of
rationality could not confer meaning on the world. The result is that, for Weber, society
ends not in the utopia envisioned by Enlightenment philosophers but in an "iron cage" of
Cultural modernity rose in opposition to societal modernization primarily in the
aesthetic realm of literature and art beginning in the late eighteenth century and expanded
via the popular media, entertainment, commercial arts, and advertising. Advocates of
cultural modernity turned away from the middle class ethos towards self-exploration and
self-realization through creative and experiential transgressions of middle class norms and
sensibilities. Baudelaire's valorization of modernity as "the transient, the fleeting, the
contingent" condition of everyday life in opposition to the contemplative, the eternal, and
the idealized-"nearly all our originality comes from the stamp that time impresses upon
our sensibility" (cited in Gaonkar 2001:4)-exemplifies well the notion of cultural
modernity. Baudelaire's vision celebrates the spectacle and novelty of modern life.
However, Baudelaire's modernity can also lapse into narcissism and hedonism due to its
lack of normative limits.
To briefly summarize, both strands of modernity-societal modernization and
cultural modernity-are associated with the rise of capitalism in the West, are concerned
with the making and remaking of individual and communal subjectivities, and have a
Janus-faced characteristic of being viewed as good or bad depending on one's orientation.
Upon this theoretical landscape have entered contemporary social theorists including
Several key modifications or additions to the classic view of modernity presented
above are necessary.3 First, there is a general consensus that modernity has expanded from
its European origins to the rest of the world via colonialism, Westernization, and
globalization. Second, most scholars argue that modernity needs pluralizing and
relativizing. Modernity does not appear in identical form everywhere it exists nor does it
unfold in an identical manner contra to many advocates of the modernization theory of
development in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
The conceptualization of multiple modernities or alternative modernities emerged
to capture the variable ways in which modernity unfolds across time and space. Gaonkar
(2001) notes how even within the Western tradition the term modern has been differently
conceptualized across time. In one conceptualization, the old instructs the new. The old is
the standard by which each age measures excellence and "must seek to emulate under
altered conditions without ever hoping to surpass it" (Gaonkar 2001:6). In the second
conceptualization, the modem is associated with progress in knowledge and material
wellbeing and is better than the past. In the third conceptualization (post Baudelaire),
modernity is associated with the present. Novelty and the present are valorized and the
modern neither looks to the past for models or a standard nor claims the authority to
"instruct the future" (Gaonkar 2001:6). Drawing on Foucault, Gaonkar (2001:13) suggests
that what underlies each of these conceptualizations of modernity is "an attitude of
questioning the present."
Anthropologists have also used modernity in a variety of ways. Friedman
(2002:289) identifies at least four different ways that anthropologists have deployed
modernity in recent work including: (1) modernity as the contemporary, (2) modernity as
the leading sector or region of the world, (3) modernity as a set of modern commodities or
images from the capitalist center, and (4) "as a cultural space, a regime of social
Each of the four ways specifies a particular articulation between social phenomena
characterized as either modem or alternatively modem and capitalism. First, modernity as
contemporary specifies the co-existence of phenomena and capitalism in the same social
space without the requirement that the phenomena are structurally integrated into the
capitalist system. The classic instance of this is Geschiere's (1997) study of witchcraft.
Second, modernity as the leading sector specifies a comparative relationship between the
center of the system (usually described as "the West" though a regional center can also fill
this role) and a particular locale. Friedman argues that, because the center functions as a
standard of modernity against which a locale defines itself, this necessarily entails a
hierarchical relationship that can entail critique or rejection as well as emulation. Third,
modernity as commodities or images is a metonymic relationship in which products from
the center stand in for or symbolize the center in local discourses of modernity. Fourth,
modernity as "a cultural space" and "a regime of social experience" entails a relationship of
structural transformation in which subjects and institutions are dominated by the logic of
While some scholars have questioned the utility of modernity as a theoretical
construct given its empirical variability and use in practice, I agree with Knauft (2002)and
Gaonkar (2001) that the idea of alternative modernities is theoretically productive.4 In this
study, I will use modernity primarily in the second and fourth senses described by
Friedman (2002) and discussed above.5 The Muslim intellectuals engaged in the
Islamization of knowledge debate are critically engaging with notions of modernity both in
a comparative manner (the second sense above) and are actively and creatively engaged in
making and re-making an alternative Islamic modernity (the fourth sense above).
A critical concern for studies using the concept of modernity is how modernity is
differentiated from and overlaps with globalization and capitalism. In this section, I will
define and differentiate globalization and capitalism and specify how I use the terms.6
Jameson (1998) outlines four possible philosophical positions concerning
globalization: (1) globalization does not exist, (2) globalization exists but is not new, (3)
globalization exists and is linked specifically to the extension of the capitalist market to
its "ultimate horizon," i.e., the globe, and thus is new in extent but not in kind, and (4)
globalization is a new multinational stage of capitalism associated with postmodernity.
Jameson finds the fourth position most interesting. My own position is that (1)
globalization exists, (2) globalization is associated with the spread of capitalism, (3)
globalization entails aspects that are not entirely new and aspects that have only
developed in the last 30-40 years, and (4) whether or not globalization represents a new
stage of capitalism is less interesting than the impact globalization has had in the world
and the implications this has for anthropological theory.7
Globalization is a concept that is used widely across popular and scholarly
contexts from presidents and prime ministers to social activists and indigenous peoples,
from philosophy and theology to anthropology and political science. Globalization, as a
historical process, has been lauded as the path leading to utopian futures and demonized
as a Western and capitalist tool of domination of the weak and poor by the strong and the
rich. Some characterize globalization as the Americanization or Westernization of the
world, others caricature it as McDonaldization (Ritzer 2000); however, most analysts
agree it has to do with the spread of capitalism and mass communication around the
world. What people mean by this is, at one level anyway, that you can travel the world
and experience many of the same hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, and transport
used in the United States.
Beyond anecdotes about the things people experience directly, are the structural
inequalities in the global economic system. These inequalities encourage most people in
less-developed countries to sell their labor and natural resources to service huge national
debt incurred in the process of opening their countries to foreign capital and corporations
(e.g. European, Japanese, and American) that are more interested in profit than local
social and economic development (Stiglitz 2003).8
Economic globalization did not happen overnight. WWII left the economies of
most of Europe, the Soviet Union, and Japan in shambles. The United States, in contrast,
emerged with the strongest economy in the world, accounting for nearly half the combined
gross world product in 1947, due both to the decline of its former economic competitors
and the fact that the vast majority of military combat took place (and therefore had the most
damaging impact) outside American territory during both WWI and WWII (White 1998).
The decentralization of capital away from Europe to the United States between WWI and
WWII marked the end of the British Empire (and other colonial-based European Empires)
and signaled the rise of the American Empire.
Capitalism, particularly in its monopolistic and oligopolistic guises that
predominate today, suffers from a recurring crisis of over accumulation that must be
remedied via the decentralization of capital.9 Following WWII, the United States faced
just such a crisis and responded by reinvigorating the economies of Western Europe and
Japan via massive capital investments. Similarly, the 1970s oil crisis punctuated another
crisis of over accumulation and was remedied by a transition to finance capitalism and
the rise of neo-liberalism that enabled capital to move more freely across state borders
(Harvey 2003; Stiglitz 2003). The transition to finance capitalism and the rise of neo-
liberalism initiated a series of significant structural reconfigurations.
Neo-liberalism, as an ideology, views the decline of state regulation of trade and
finance as central to the promotion of economic growth and development. Neo-liberal
ideology fueled American capitalist imperialism10 and resulted in a tacit agreement
between the IMF, World Bank, and United States Treasury to promote neo-liberal
policies around the globe and specifically as conditions attached to loans which came to
be known as the Washington consensus. The results of these policies include the decline
of state control over national economies, the subordination of domestic economic policies
to the logic of global capitalism, and the decentralization of capital. The triumph of neo-
liberalism temporarily relieved the pressure from capitalism's recurring crisis of over
accumulation. The deregulation of the flow of capital enabled the decentralization of
capital from the United States, Europe, and Japan to East and Southeast Asia, Mexico,
Brazil, and India. China, in particular, has been the greatest beneficiary as capitalists
look for new places to maximize return on investment. In other words, economic
globalization (Harvey 2003; Stiglitz 2003).
Economic globalization has resulted in significant transformations of society.
Friedman (2003) argues that globalization results in the fragmentation of society both
vertically and horizontally. Vertically, a new cosmopolitan class has emerged consisting
of economic and political elites whose prosperity is tied to the expansion of neo-liberal
capitalism rather than the expansion or success of a specific state. In contrast to this
relatively small group of cosmopolitan elites, there is a rapidly growing underclass due to
the increasing disparity between the haves and the have-nots sparked by the decline in the
economic self-regulatory powers of states. This disconnect between the interests of
social classes helps explain the rise of the various anti-globalization social movements,
civil wars, terrorism, and anti-Americanism despite a general trend toward economic
The decline of the state, the rise of a cosmopolitan class, and the increase in social
stratification also creates tensions horizontally between groups within nationally-grounded
underclasses. The rise of identity-based groups within states, whether they are based on
religion, ethnicity, gender, or race, at one time thought to contradict the homogenizing
aspects of globalization must now be viewed as an outcome of globalization. Specifically,
as state hegemony declines, the ability of the state to create citizen-based identities
declines. As Friedman (2003:7) states:
If the modernist nation-state is based on the identification of a subject population
with a national project that defines its members, in principle, in terms of equality
and political representivity, and which is future oriented and developmentalistic,
when this project loses its power of attraction, its subjects must look
elsewhere....This leads to a range of cultural identifications that fragment and
ethnify the former political units, from ethnic to religious to sexual, all in the
vacuum left by a vanishing future.
This, in turn, creates the conditions under which alternative modernities can emerge and
The anthropological study of globalization has grown substantially in recent
years. The work ofUlfHannerz, Michael Kearney, and Arjun Appadurai represent three
of the most prominent anthropological analyses of globalization. Ulf Hannerz (1998;
1996; 1989) utilizes a world systems model of center-periphery cultural relations.
Hannerz argues that a new "global ecumene" has formed where once distinct cultures
interact. This space of interaction is dominated, however, by cosmopolitans from
powerful centers in Europe and America.
For Kearney (1996; 1995), the global era is characterized by the disintegration of
center-periphery relationships in which hybridized cultural subjects move about as part of
global flows across the world. Kearney tempers this vision with the caveat that the
multiplicity of hybridized identities extent in the world are shaped by the transnational
Appadurai (1996) describes a world in which a series of five "scapes"
(ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes, and ideoscapes) are in
competition to make and re-make the world. Appadurai's conceptualization highlights a
deterritorialized cultural imagination as definitive of the global era and determinative of
the content of his scapes. And while capital flows are part of Appadurai's model, he
finds that ethnoscapes and mediascapes play a more significant role.
Tsing (2000), in one of the first anthropological endeavors to engage globalization
studies critically, argues that globalization, like modernization before it, is a set of
cultural projects and as such needs to be investigated with a critical eye. Tsing also notes
that Hannerz, Kearney, and Appadurai each focus on particular aspects of globalization.
Furthermore, the three distinct perspectives on globalization can be brought into
conversation with each other in order to enhance the total understanding of globalization
as a phenomenon.
Indeed, much of anthropology can be part of the conversation. As anthropologists
focus more on the "contemporary world" and global change, aspects of globalization gain
relevance for more of anthropology including studies of urban anthropology (Sassen
1991), migration (Ong 1999), studies of place and space (Gupta and Ferguson 1997),
media (Larkin 2002; Yang 2002), identity formation (Featherstone 1995), diasporic
communities (Clifford 1997), politics (Adams 2002), nationalism (Nonini and Ong
1997), science and technology (Martin 1994a), economics (Ho 2005; Ong 1987), religion
(Hefner 2000; Peletz 2002), and violence (Friedman 2003; Furlow 2005; Glick Schiller
and Fouron 2003; Nonini 2003; Reyna 2003) among many others.12
Knauft (2002) treats modernity, globalization, and capitalism as organizing tropes
for research and distinguishes them as follows. Studies of globalization tend to focus on
flows of people and things (like capital, technology, media, and ideas) across space while
foregrounding consumption and are optimistic in outlook. Studies of capitalism tend to
focus on the historical development and implications of wage labor while foregrounding
production and exploitation and are pessimistic in outlook. In contrast, Knauft argues that
studies of modernity are more situational than programmatic and predetermined. Studies of
modernity attempt to unite an analysis of economic and political dynamics within the
framework of specific local and regional cultural engagements by focusing on "the
contemporary experience of alterity and how this is impacted by larger structures of
exploitation and domination" (Knauft 2002:39). In other words, Knauft suggests that
studies of modernity combine aspects of studies of globalization and capitalism with
ethnographically grounded accounts of subject-making and cultural practice.
In contrast, I will distinguish modernity, globalization, and capitalism as follows.
First, I will use "economic globalization" and "capitalism" interchangeably to delineate the
contemporary global capitalist system described above. Second, I will also use
"globalization" as a trope that foregrounds the movement of people and things across
national borders. In this study, I am particularly interested in the movement of particular
intellectuals and ideas between my research sites in Northern Virginia and Malaysia. I find
that neither "capitalism" nor "modernity" captures the importance of movement for this
study. Third, I use "modernity" as I described above in a comparative sense and as a
cultural space structured by the logic of capitalism in which Muslims are making and re-
making an Islamic modernity. Donham captures well what I have in mind when he
describes modernity as a discursive space or public sphere in which "an argument takes
place" and "at least some actors invoke notions of the modem in claims to power" and
where "ideas of tradition are constructed and reconstructed" (Donham 2002:244-245
emphasis in original). Fourth, I will use "alternative modernities" to delineate specific
instantiations or constructions of modernity within a particular locale. The
conceptualization of modernity in the plural is central to this study as it examines the
construction of alternative modernities across multiple research sites.
This project is a multi-sited ethnography of the Islamization of knowledge debate.
Research methodologies included: (1) participant-observation at institutions and
conferences; (2) semi-structured and life history interviews; (3) and analysis of both
technical and popular literature. The debate and its participants are both heterogeneous and
dispersed. I have selected a multi-sited ethnographic research design because it allows me
to examine and compare the complex interrelationship between "local" and "global"
contexts at several sites that vary along the axes of national setting, institutional structure,
and intellectual position and house individuals with different life histories. This diversity
will enable me to examine how the various cultural, institutional, intellectual, and personal
factors are related to knowledge production within the debate, e.g., how and why "Islam,"
"science," and "modernity" are being differently constructed. Furthermore, the diversity is
essential to the validity of the conclusions drawn from this project.
Based on my preliminary research, discussions with several central figures in the
Islamization debate, and my desire to maximize cultural and institutional diversity, I
selected four primary institutional research sites clustered in two geographical locales-
Northern Virginia and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-selected for the presence of a critical
mass of institutions and individuals engaged in the Islamization of knowledge debate. In
each locale, I focused attention on two institutions-one university and one research
institute. The institutions include: (1) the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Science
(GSISS) in Leesburg, Virginia; (2) the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in
Herndon, Virginia; (3) the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) in Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia; and (4) the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization
(ISTAC) in Kuala Lumpur and not affiliated with the IIIT.
Northern Virginia is a leading center in the Islamization of knowledge debate.
Over the past three decades, the Muslim community in America has grown dramatically
due do changes in immigration laws and the labor market. Muslim intellectuals in America
significantly influence Islamic thought throughout the world benefiting from the
combination of religious freedom and the approximately one hundred thousand Muslim
students studying at American universities who bring American Muslims' views back to
their own countries (Haddad 1991b).
The GSISS opened in August 1996. The GSISS was founded by IIIT personnel and
offers two programs. The first program leads to a Master of Arts degree in Islamic studies
and the second program trains Imams (Muslim prayer leaders). I visited the GSISS for two
days in July 1997. During my visit, GSISS President Dr. Taha Al-Alwani, whom I had met
in 1995 at the IIIT, invited me to spend the fall at the GSISS and offered me the support of
a GSISS research fellowship. I spent August through December 1997 at the GSISS
conducting ethnographic research.
During the fall of 1997, I also spent time at the IIIT and interacted regularly with
IIIT personnel. The IIIT was founded in 1981 to promote the Islamization of knowledge.
The IIIT is central to the Islamization debate, sponsoring conferences, and publishing the
quarterly American Journal of slamic Social Sciences among other publications. The
institute, which is organized on a think tank model, also houses the Association of Muslim
Scientists and Engineers (AMSE), and the Association of Muslim Social Scientists
(AMSS). The IIIT has branch offices located in London and throughout the Islamic world.
In addition to the fall of 1997, I spent a week in May 1995 at IIIT, a week in May 2000 at
GSISS and IIIT, and a week in October 2000 participating at the annual conference of
AMSS held at Georgetown University.
The IIIT and GSISS, while closely associated, house different personnel and have
different missions and therefore offer two contrasting institutional contexts within which to
examine the Islamization of knowledge debate. These differences have resulted in the
divergence of GSISS and IIIT concerning the goals, methods, and boundaries of the
Islamization of knowledge project.
Malaysia is in the midst of an Islamic revival sparked at least partly by Chinese-
Malay riots in 1969. Malaysian universities have become major centers of Islamic
activism, and the Malaysian government has increasingly supported Islamic institutions
including many involved in the Islamization of knowledge debate as a means of
maintaining its legitimacy among the Malay-Muslim community (Esposito 1991b; Nagata
1984). And as a Muslim majority nation-state, Malaysia provides an excellent contrast to
the United States context.
The IIUM, funded by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), a cooperative
organization of Muslim nation-states, and the Government of Malaysia, was established in
1983 and has approximately 8,000 students and 200 faculty members. The IIUM is
implementing an Islamization of knowledge policy and regularly hosts conferences on the
Islamization of knowledge. The IUM was led during my visit between October and
December 1998 by a former president of the IIIT. Thus, the IUM enables a comparison
between implementation of Islamization in Malaysian and American contexts.
ISTAC is an independently operated research and educational division of the IIUM
promoting the renewal of Islamic thought as a means to a better Islamic civilization.
ISTAC houses several leading participants in the Islamization of knowledge debate and
publishes a quarterly journal dealing with the Islamization of knowledge. ISTAC provides
an excellent comparative case to contrast with the GSISS, IIIT, and IIUM because its
founder Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas and several key personnel advocate a different
approach to the Islamization of knowledge from the other institutions.
Data Collection Methods
At each institute, I used the following data-collect methods:
1. Participant-observation. Ethnographic participant-observation research was
conducted at each of the four institutions described above. I was an active participant at
each institution. I met with and interviewed faculty, staff, administrators, and students. I
attended, participated in, and tape-recorded seminars and classes. In Northern Virginia, I
shared an apartment with two students while in Malaysia, I spent two-nights in the student
dormitories after attending functions that lasted until after the buses stopped running.
2. Semi-structured and life history interviews. I conducted semi-structured
interviews with institution administrators focusing on gathering data on the history and
activity of the institute. These interviews also provided me with the background material
for the in-depth life history interviews.
At GSISS and ISTAC, I interviewed each administrator. At IIIT, I informally
interviewed several current administrators as well as conducting formal interviews with
two former IIIT presidents who at the time of my research had moved on to lead GSISS
and IUM respectively. At IUM, I interviewed several administrators focusing particular
attention on areas in which the Islamization of knowledge policies were being formulated
and who were in charge of implementation.
Life history interviews with faculty, administrators, and students provide data on
(1) attitudes toward Islam, science, and the Islamization of knowledge and (2) data related
to personal, intellectual, religious, and professional development including informants'
explanations for major life decisions. Attitudinal and motivational data was gathered by a
series of open-ended questions. The interviews also probed for paths not taken, e.g., ajob
offer not accepted or a research topic considered but not investigated. The interview guide
is shown in the Appendix.
Life history interviewing is a relatively new technique in the anthropology of
science (see Fischer 1995; Gusterson 1995) and STS, more generally, despite the
prominence of biographies in the history of science. This project builds on and diverges
from previous life history research in that I conducted approximately 17 tape-recorded life
history interviews covering an identical core set of topics with individuals. Thus, the data
will be systematic, comparable across individuals, and generalizable. I also supplemented
these formal, tape-recorded interviews with many formal and informal interviews with
individuals who either did not want to do formal interviews or did not want to be tape-
3. Literature review and archival research. Each institute houses extensive
collections of technical and popular literature concerning the Islamization of knowledge. I
gathered extensive amounts of literature that I did not previously possess. I also collected
historical data about each institution for comparison with interview data. Of primary
interest was material concerning the founding of each institution, institutional support,
faculty and dates of employment, students' backgrounds, and institution-wide projects.
Figure 2-1 contains a summary of the three types of data collected.
Tape recorded interviews and classes were transcribed by paid transcribers and then
edited by me. Transcribed interviews and other ethnographic fieldnotes were
systematically compiled, coded, and analyzed using the atlas/ti software package. The
atlas/ti software is an industrial-strength text management program that enables systematic
coding and analysis of text-based and graphical data, particularly open-ended interviews.
I used atlas/ti primarily for code and retrieve functions. First, each file was coded
for country, institution, and type of data (i.e., life history interview, semi-structured
interview, class notes, participant observation, etc.) Next, each file was divided into logical
subsections and each section was coded for the individual or individuals involved and for
Once the coding was completed, the interpretation and empirical testing began. As
I read through the material several times, I wrote down particular ideas about what seemed
important and what dominant themes were present. I then went about using the tools
available in atlas/ti to test my ideas. For example, the code "identity" seemed important
based upon the total frequency and the number of files in which it was used. To examine
this hypothesis, I called up all the instances in which the code "identity" appeared. I then
began to classify each instance according to the institution at which the data were gathered.
I then began to subdivide each instance into more specific categories like "institutional
identity," "personal identity," and "collective identity" which I collated by institution,
country, and individual. I then had a clear, simple, empirical map of the code "identity" as
derived from my data. I then used this to support my arguments about the importance of
identity and its permutations at my research sites. I engaged in similar analyses of other
important codes like "Islam," "Islamization of knowledge," "science," etc.
These data gathered using a multi-sited research design and framed using the dual
concepts of modernity and globalization enable an empirically grounded ethnographic
account of the Islamization of knowledge debate and its interrelationship with "local" and
"global" socio-cultural, political, and intellectual contexts.
Summary of Fieldwork Completed
Fieldwork in Northern Virginia/DC May 1995, August-December 1997, May
2000, October 2000
Fieldwork in Malaysia October-December 1998
Interviews in London October 2000
Summary of Data Collected
Research activities included: 1) participant-observation at institutions and
conferences; 2) semi-structured and life history interviews; and 3) analysis of
technical and popular literature. Ethnographic fieldwork was conducted at
institutions and conferences in northern Virginia/Washington, DC, Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia, and Europe. Data gathered include approximately 50 hours of tape
recorded interviews and lectures, dozens of informal interviews, approximately 150
hours of classroom observations, and approximately 100 hours of archival research in
addition to hundreds of hours of general participant-observation in the day-to-day
activities of the institutions and people.
(1) Participant Observation: Classes at GSISS and IIUM, Lecture Series at GSISS,
AMSS Conference, IIIT Seminar on IOK, IOK Circle at IIUM, Political Science
Students Meetings at IUM
Semi-Structured Interviews at GSISS, IIUM, ISTAC, Universiti Malaya, also includes
several individuals at IIIT either previously or since
Life History Interviews at GSISS, IIUM, ISTAC, also includes several individuals at
IIIT either previously or since
Informal Interviews/Discussions at GSISS, IIIT, IIUM, ISTAC, Universiti Malaya
(3) Analysis of Literature:
Technical Literature includes scholarly books, journals, and newsletters; university
catalogs and websites; government reports; class syllabi
Popular Literature includes Malaysian newspapers and books; interviews with major
debate figures published in general magazines; speeches and writings by politicians;
Figure 2-1. Summary of fieldwork completed and data collected.
1 One could also add capitalism as a third concept that anthropologists use interchangeably
with modernity and globalization. Some of the central works cited in both literatures
include Appadurai (1996), Hannerz (1996), Harvey (1990), Friedman (1994), Ong (1999;
1987) and Giddens (1991; 1990).
2 Several works related to modernity helped inform the discussion presented here
including Knauft (2002), Gaonkar (2001), Harvey (1990), Taylor (1999), Nonini and Ong
(1997), Friedman (2002), and Donham (2002).
3 One important question that I will not address because it is tangential to my purposes is
the debate about whether modernity as a project is redeemable or should be scrapped
given its Janis-faced characteristic. Briefly, Habermas argued that modernity, though
compromised by its association with capitalism, can be fixed. Foucault disagreed arguing
that rationality, knowledge, truth, and power are so intertwined that they cannot be
separated. For excellent discussions of the Habermas-Foucault debate see Gaonkar
(2001) and Knauft (2002).
4 Englund and Leach (2000) argue that anthropologists studying modernity use a meta-
narrative that undermines the empirical validity of ethnographic research. According to
Englund and Leach (2000:228), the meta-narrative includes three assumptions: (1)
modernity is everywhere, (2) the institutional configurations cannot be defined in advance
but all can be understood as instances of a particular modernity through the abstractions of
"reenchantment" and dedifferentiationn", and (3) the local responses to global processes
offer both "creative opportunities" and "threat and danger". Englund and Leach argue for
an anthropology of modernity that takes more care in focusing on the empirical realities of
a particular case and is more reflexive to guard against the smuggling in of ethnocentric
conceptions of modernity in the form of a predetermined meta-narrative.
Friedman (2002) confronts studies of modernity from the opposite direction arguing
that current usage of modernity as a theoretical construct is imprecise. For example,
Friedman distinguishes between uses of modernity as contemporaneous and modernity in
the structural sense. In the usage of modernity as contemporaneous, subjects participate in
global capitalist processes but are not dominated by its logic. In contrast, in the usage of
modernity in the structural sense, subjects and institutions are dominated by the logic of
capital. Friedman prefers limiting the use of modernity to the latter. This does not mean
that Friedman favors modernity in the singular, however, because, as he notes, no society
has been fully penetrated and there is variation across time and space as to which
institutions have been penetrated and there are differences in local and national cultures.
5 I will also draw upon the third sense. However, I would subsume the third sense as a
particular instance of the second sense because it presumes a comparative stance vis-a-vis
6 This section largely is taken with permission from Furlow (2005).
7 Several volumes on globalization helped inform the brief sketch presented here and may
be consulted for more detail (see Featherstone 1995; Friedman 2003; Harvey 2003;
Harvey 1990; Inda and Rosaldo 2002; Jameson and Miyoshi 1998; Lechner and Boli
2000; Tsing 2000; Turner 2003).
8 A related issue is the extent to which economic globalization supplants local, traditional
value systems with Western values, e.g., consumerism, materialism, individualism, and
secularism that tend to drive capitalist economic systems. You can stay at an American
hotel chain, see the latest American blockbuster film, watch CNN and MTV, listen to
American pop music on the radio, buy Levi jeans and Nike shoes, and drink a Coke or
Pepsi at a local McDonalds or Pizza Hut anywhere in the world. More significantly,
however, economic globalization impacts traditional social relations. For example,
Aihwa Ong demonstrates the impact on social life and gender relations in Malaysia when
the state consciously transforms society along capitalist lines in order to attract foreign
investment and the traumatic experience of many young, rural women who relocate in
order to work in Japanese-owned factories in free trade zones (Ong 1987).
9 For excellent discussions of the problem of over accumulation see Harvey (2003; 1990),
Friedman (2003), and Turner (2003).
10 Following David Harvey (2003), the American ascension to military and economic
hegemony can be classified as "capitalist imperialism" that entails the combination of the
politics of state and empire as a political project with the processes of capital
accumulation in space and time as a political-economic project. Thus, capitalist
imperialism links territorial and capitalist logics of power (Arrighi 1994) sometimes
working in concert and sometimes independently. However, in capitalist imperialism, the
logic of capital usually though not always dominates the logic of territory (Harvey 2003).
An interesting question is whether the world is currently dominated by an
American Empire or a more decentralized Empire of the sort Hardt and Negri describe
(Hardt and Negri 2004; Hardt and Negri 2000). In my view, both are currently in
competition particularly following the Bush administration's shift toward neo-
11 There is not enough space here to document fully the relationship between
globalization and violence. For further details, I recommend the volume Globalization
the State, and Violence edited by Friedman (Elkholm Friedman 2003; Glick Schiller and
Fouron 2003; Nonini 2003; Reyna 2003; Wieviorka 2003).
12 These represent just a fraction of the studies available. For additional studies I
recommend the journal City & Society published by the Society for Urban, National,
Transnational/Global Anthropology section of the American Anthropological
Association, Inda and Rosaldo (2002), Kearney (1995), Hannerz (1998), and Knauft
ISLAMIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE IN THE UNITED STATES
The American experience with and knowledge of Muslims and Islam over the last
quarter century arguably has been defined by a series of violent conflicts. Stretching
from the Arab-Israeli wars through the OPEC oil embargoes in the early 1970s to the
1979 Iranian Revolution and hostage taking at the American embassy in Tehran to
American support and training of the mujahideen "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan to
the attacks on the Marine compound in Beirut, and the Gulf War all the way to the
September 11, 2001, Al-Qaida attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the
American invasion of Afghanistan, and the Iraq War, this history continues to shape
American views on Muslims and Islam.
The focus on Islam and Muslims as external to daily life in the United States
(except for the ever present terrorist threat level) leads to the construction of narrow,
iconic Muslim identities-the irrational, jihadist, fanatical, freedom-hating, male terrorist
and the passive, subservient, veiled female. This process of"othering" Muslims into
homogenized and dehumanized caricatures in American popular culture may make the
killing and "collateral damage" that goes along with war more palatable for the American
general public; however, this process also marginalizes the growing community of
This chapter examines the emergence of Muslims as an identity-based group
within American society and the establishment within this context of the International
Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) and the Graduate School of Islamic and Social
Muslims in America
Estimates of the number of Muslims in America range from 1.2 million to 8
million (Leonard 2003). And while the exact number is disputed, it is generally conceded
that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States and will soon surpass
Judaism as the second largest religion behind only Christianity (Leonard 2003).
The three largest groups of Muslims in the United States are African Americans,
Arabs, and South Asians. The first Muslims in America were African Muslim slaves.
According to Leonard (2003), while approximately 10 percent of African slaves were
Muslims, no records exist of slaves who survived and continued to practice Islam.
African Americans began to convert to indigenous versions of Islam beginning in the
early twentieth century (Leonard 2003).
The first Muslims known to maintain their practice of Islam in the United States
were Arabs who came during the late nineteenth century from the Greater Syria region of
the Ottoman Empire. South Asian Muslims did not start immigrating to the United States
in large numbers until after the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act that expanded
greatly the numbers of non-European immigrants including peoples from much of the
Muslim world (Leonard 2003).
Muslims' perceptions of the United States (both among American and non-
American Muslims) have been shaped by the recent history of the Muslim world and
American foreign policy in the region. Haddad (1991a:218) notes that, prior to 1947,
Arab perceptions of the United States were generally positive:
America was for many both the land of opportunity .. and a model of virtue. Its
popularity was based, among other things, on President Wilson's espousal in 1919
of the right of subject peoples to self-determination. America was perceived as
champion of a righteous world political order that endowed national communities
with the right to independence and to free choice of their own government.
This positive view of the United States changed following World War II.
According to Haddad (1991a), with the exception of the Eisenhower administration,
every American administration from Truman to Reagan has been perceived by Arabs
including Arab Americans (including both Muslim and Christian Arabs) to pursue anti-
Arab policies. I would add that Arabs' perceptions have not changed during the two
Bush and the Clinton administrations that have held office since Haddad's study was
completed. Foremost among these policies has been American support of Israel.
However, American support for the non-Arab states Turkey and, until the 1979 Islamic
revolution, Iran has also rankled Arabs.2
Haddad (1991a) traces the development of Arab American identities in relation to
American foreign policy. Arab immigrants have been coming to the United States since
around 1880. Over time their identities have shifted from "Ottoman subjects" or
"Turkish" or "Asiatics" to national designations following the transition from the
Ottoman Empire to European colonialism and then independence (Haddad 1991a;
Leonard 2003). Haddad notes that Arab American organizing on a national scale only
began in the 1950s in the wake of the founding of the state of Israel and its immediate
recognition by the United States. The founding of the Federation of Islamic Associations
of the United States and Canada (FIA) by immigrant Muslims and the expansion of the
Nation of Islam by African Americans in the 1950s marks the emergence of Islam as a
national participant in American civil society.
When the United States under Eisenhower forced Israel, Britain, and France to
withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula following their invasion of Egypt in 1956, both the
United States and Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser rose in stature among Arabs
and many Arab Americans began to feel pride in and identify with their Arab heritage
rather than their national-origin identity. However, in the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli
War, Arab Americans' marginalization from mainstream American society was once
At about this time, Muslim students studying abroad in the United States and
Canada were laying the foundations for many of the most important immigrant-based
Muslim organizations in North America. The Muslim Student Association (MSA) was
founded in 1963 to bring together several independent Muslim student associations on
university campuses in North America. The students involved at the beginning came
from across the Muslim world including Arabs, Indo-Pakistanis, Iranians, and Turks
among others (Ahmed 1991).
The MSA is significant for several reasons. First, the MSA represents the first
major effort of Muslims in the United States to create an organization based exclusively
upon Islamic identity rather than ethnicity, nationality, or race. Second, the MSA created
a global network of university-educated Muslims including many prominent participants
in the Islamization of knowledge debate. And third, the MSA is the organization from
which many of the most significant American Muslim organizations directly or indirectly
emerged including ISNA, IIIT, GSISS, AMSS, and AMSE.
Second, MSA created a global network of university-educated Muslims. Of
interest here is the great number of individuals involved in the Islamization of knowledge
debate that participated in MSA. Ismail Al-Faruqi, perhaps the most prominent advocate
for the Islamization of knowledge, was a leader within MSA. Similarly, Jamal Barzinji, a
central figure in IIIT, was a leader within MSA. Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud, a prominent
Malaysian participant in the Islamization of knowledge debates, was President of MSA
while a graduate student studying in the United States.3 And Kamal Hassan, currently
Rector of IIUM, also participated in MSA when he studied at Columbia University (SISS
Thirdly, MSA is the organization from which many of the most significant
American Muslim organizations directly or indirectly emerged including ISNA, IIIT,
GSISS, AMSS, and AMSE. While IIIT and GSISS are dealt with in detail below, other
organizations merit brief mention here. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is
now the largest Muslim organization in North America. ISNA developed in 1981 out of
MSA as an umbrella organization to link campus organizations represented in MSA and
community organizations organized in the Muslim Community Association (MCA). In
addition, ISNA houses several professional and service organizations under its umbrella.
The professional organizations developed directly from MSA as students graduated and
began careers and include the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), the
Association of Muslim Scientists and Engineers (AMSE), and the Islamic Medical
Association (IMA). The service organizations developed through ISNA and include the
North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), the Canadian Islamic Trust (CIT), the Islamic
Teaching Center (ITC), and the Foundation of International Development (FID).4
The formation of an American Islamic identity is linked with the processes of
globalization. American foreign policy in the Muslim world and the Middle East in
particular was driven by the requirement of access to oil to fuel the capitalist world
system while at the same time limiting access by communist nations. American policy
favored stability over democracy and one result was an Islamic resurgence in the Muslim
world. At the same time, American cultural and political discourse on Islam and
Muslims, fueled by global media coverage of events in or related to the Middle East (e.g.
Arab-Israeli wars, the OPEC oil embargo, the Iranian revolution, Palestinian radicalism,
etc.), marginalized Islam and Muslims from the American mainstream. This process of
"othering" was accomplished intentionally or not through a number of category shifts or
slippages. For example, Americans often view the Arab-Israeli conflicts through the lens
of religious categories Muslim and Jewish rather than ethnic and national categories like
Arab, Palestinian, and Israeli or political or ideological categories like nationalism,
secularism, socialism, or Zionism. This type of category slippage obscures important
aspects of the conflict including the facts that Arab Palestinians comprise about 15
percent of the Israeli citizenry, that many Arabs and Palestinians are Christians, that the
PLO is a secular, nationalist organization rather than an Islamist organization, and that
the intellectual construction of pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism was led by Christian
Arab Michael Aflaq.5
Cultural and political discourses that label and marginalize Islam and Muslims
have significant implications for the formation of American Muslim identity. Al-
Shingiety (1991:53) argues that there is a "dialectical relationship between Western
representations of Muslims and Muslims' self-image" in the United States. While Al-
Shingiety specifically examines the transformation of the identities of members of the
Nation of Islam from a Black separatist movement to orthodox American Muslims, he
argues that the model is generalizable to most Muslims in America. First, Americans
used public representations of Islam and Muslims to label and identify groups in society.
Second, American Muslims then appropriated these representations as their own identity,
i.e., they began to self-identify as Muslim Americans. Thus, as Americans began to
identify individuals as Muslims, these individuals began to associate with similarly
identified individuals in organizations like MSA and ISNA and at mosques and Islamic
community centers and to self-identify themselves as Muslims.
Within this context, the IIIT was founded. What I am interested in the remainder
of this chapter is to present a brief intellectual and institutional history of how the IIIT's
original ideas and work plan developed and have been transformed and reshaped over
time both at the IIIT and as they traveled to the Graduate School of Islamic and Social
In 1981 in Washington, DC, the late Ismail R. Al-Faruqi, a Palestinian, and a
small group of colleagues including AbdulHamid AbuSulayman, a Saudi, and Taha Jabar
Al-Alwani, an Iraqi, established the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT).
Growing out of a 1977 conference on Islamic education held in Mecca and a conference
held in Lugano, Switzerland that same year, the IIIT was founded upon the ideas that: (1)
there is a malaise in Islamic civilization clearly evident in its political, economic, and
cultural spheres; (2) the core of the crisis is a crisis of intellectual thought and
methodology; (3) this crisis of thought is the result of the bifurcation of the education
system into traditional Islamic and modern European-style educational institutions; and
(4) the solution, therefore, is to reform education by reintegrating Islamic and modem
knowledge thus renewing the link between knowledge and values; and (5) the social
sciences and humanities are the appropriate targets for this intervention because they are
most susceptible to corrupting influences of ideology (Al-Faruqi 1982).
Al-Faruqi and the IIIT called their project the "Islamization of knowledge"
(Islamiyya al-ma 'rifa in Arabic) and conceived a twelve-step work plan (see Figure 1-1).
According to the work plan (Al-Faruqi 1982), both the so-called modern disciplines and
the Islamic legacy would be mastered and critically evaluated before being synthesized
and disseminated in the form of textbooks. Later moving its headquarters to Herndon,
Virginia, about 30 minutes drive west of Washington, the IIIT quickly became a global
organization, opening branch offices around the world including in London, Cairo,
Jordan, the Sudan, Morocco, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After
Al-Faruqi along with his family were murdered or possibly assassinated in 1986, Al-
Alwani and AbuSulayman headed the IIIT.
According to Al-Alwani, Al-Faruqi (1982) assembled the initial work plan from
conference papers presented by Al-Faruqi, AbuSulayman, and himself following the
Second International Conference on the Islamization of Knowledge held in Islamabad,
Pakistan. The twelve-step plan was conceptualized by Al-Faruqi as a guide for Muslim
graduate students and professors interested in utilizing an Islamization of knowledge
approach in their teaching and research projects. Thus, the emphasis was placed on the
mastery of Islamic and Western legacies within a particular discipline with the ultimate
goal of producing textbooks.7 Barzinji also emphasizes the focus on producing the
human resources needed to teach the next generation of Muslim scholars (Barzinji n.d.).
Early on, the IIIT was a modest undertaking. Everyone involved was a volunteer
and publications were funded using the personal resources of Al-Faruqi and the other
participants. However, by 1983, Al-Alwani says everyone recognized the need for a
more permanent and better funded institute with a full-time research staff. According to
Al-Alwani, Jamal Barzinji and Hisham Al-Talib, American citizens working as engineers
in Saudi Arabia where Al-Alwani and AbuSulayman also were located, returned to the
United States to raise money and find suitable facilities to house the IIIT. Barzinji and
Al-Talib purchased a small house in Virginia and reregistered the IIIT in Virginia. Al-
Alwani and AbuSulayman resigned their posts in Saudi Arabia and came to the United
States to work full-time at IIIT in 1984.8
The focus on the Islamization of particular social science disciplines continued at
the Third International Conference on the Islamization of Knowledge convened in 1984
in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and co-sponsored by the Malaysian Ministry of Youth and
Culture. Specifically, the conference focused on seven disciplines: economics, sociology,
psychology, anthropology, political science and international relations, and philosophy.
The IIIT focused on these seven disciplines because it thought these disciplines were
most central to Western thought (Barzinji n.d.; IIIT 1989).
A participant at this conference was Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who
stated his support for the IIIT's approach to Islamization (IIIT 1989). Notably, the
International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) was founded the previous year in
1983. The IIUM also developed out of the 1977 conference in Mecca. Following the
success of the Malaysian conference, the IIIT opened a branch office in Malaysia.
AbuSulayman, who has been both President and Director General of the IIIT, became
Rector of IUM in 1988. The IIIT even briefly considered moving their headquarters to
Malaysia in the mid-1990s.9
After Al-Faruqi's death in 1986, Al-Alwani was elected President of IIIT while
AbuSulayman managed AMSS and their peer-reviewed journal the American Journal of
Islamic Social Science (AJISS). Al-Alwani was quite concerned that the target of the
killers was not just Al-Faruqi but his ideas as well including the Islamization of
knowledge. Al-Alwani led an expansion of the IIIT across the Muslim world so that the
ideas of IIIT could not be eliminated with the murder of a handful of scholars.10
The expansion included opening branch offices in many Muslim states. The IIIT
recruited professors at universities in each country who agreed to act as a representative
of the IIIT. If the local representative could use the facilities at their home university,
they did. If not, the local representative was asked to rent one room with a fax, a phone,
and an address where correspondence could be sent. Once established, the branch offices
acted independently through the local representatives' students and colleagues to spread
the ideas of the IIIT. The branch offices conducted seminars, workshops, or small
conferences with minimal help provided by IIIT headquarters. In time, several branch
offices were so successful that they had full-time staffs and managed research projects
that rivaled if not surpassed those at IIIT headquarters."1
After its initial success in the early 1980s, the IIIT underwent a critical re-
evaluation of its work plan. Barzinji (n.d.) states that the early focus of the IIIT had been
to produce Islamized university level textbooks in the core disciplines within 10 years.
However, no textbooks yet exist. While part of the reason for the difficulties IIIT had are
the result of the death of Ismail Al-Faruqi in 1986, other factors are also involved.
The Fourth International Conference on the Islamization of Knowledge co-
sponsored by the University of Khartoum was held in the Sudan in 1987. The conference
was organized around the theme "Methodology of Islamic Thought and Islamization of
the Behavioral Sciences" in order to address the issue of methodology in the general
sense of epistemology. The conference was an apparent failure. Barzinji (n.d.:8)
describes the results of the conference as follows:
The results of the fourth conference fell short of the aspirations and hopes of the
IIIT. It became evident to us that the Muslim Ummah, represented by its scholars
and intellectuals is not yet ready to make an original contribution to human
thought, more specifically in the Behavioral Sciences, based on the Tawhidic
paradigm, and drawing on the wealth of our heritage in Turath. Further, it
became clear that Muslim specialists in the Western disciplines of Social and
Behavioral sciences are not able to present an in-depth evaluation and criticism of
their own specialization. In all fairness, we concluded, that the Western scholars
had assessed their own fields more critically, than Muslim scholars could now do.
During this same period, an internal critique was also undertaken as part of the
IIIT's Western Thought Project (WTP). Initially, Al-Faruqi led the WTP that began in
1984. The goals of the project were twofold. First, the WTP aimed to gather and
organize all the most important Western research in each of the seven disciplines listed
above. Second, Muslims engaged in the Islamization of knowledge could use this
material as it relates to steps 1, 2, 5, 6, 10, and 11 of the work plan (see Figure 1-1). The
WTP was later described as:
Opening a new window on the West with a view to a critical appreciation and
reflection on that heritage as it is developing in our times and affecting the various
disciplines of the human mind and spirit is part and process of the Islamization
workplan. The idea is to prepare the ground for a critical and selective
assimilation which can act as a catalyst to the process of intellectual renewal as it
emerges out of the fermentation which occurs in the course of the more
fundamental interaction with the elements of the Muslim heritage itself. (Abul-
Al-Faruqi sent letters to prominent professors at Western universities in each of
the seven disciplines asking them to create and send him bibliographic reference lists of
what each professor thought were the most important references in their field. Al-Faruqi
envisioned having at least two bibliographic lists in each discipline. Although an
honorarium was offered for the work, only two professors responded positively and sent a
bibliography. These two professors were in political science and anthropology
respectively and apparently were personal friends or colleagues of Al-Faruqi. While
collection of materials began using these two lists, the WTP was suddenly halted by the
premature death of Al-Faruqi in 1986 (Abul-Fadl 1988).
Approximately six months later in 1987, the IIIT hired Mona Abul-Fadl to carry
forward the WTP under the tutelage of AbdulHamid AbuSulayman. Abul-Fadl is a
political scientist who was born in Cairo, raised bi-culturally in Cairo and London, and
educated in London. She joined IIIT after coming to Old Dominion University in
Virginia as a Fulbright scholar from Cairo University.12 Eighteen months later in
October 1988, Abul-Fadl submitted a report on the WTP that had a significant impact on
the re-evaluation and revision of the original work plan in the wake of the perceived
failure of the conference in Sudan the previous year.
In the report, Abul-Fadl (1988) noted the divergence of the IIIT's current
activities and vision from the work plan. While the initial work plan focused on
mastering and the Islamization of specific disciplines in order to reform education, in
subsequent work the focus broadened to the more fundamental project of the Islamization
of Muslim thinking, of transforming Muslim thought itself. Abul-Fadl (1988:9) states:
The emphasis shifted to a concern for critiquing and transforming the thought
structures and products among Muslims at the conceptual and the methodological
levels within the context of a revived and reformed cultural context... The result
is that the changes at the perceptual level have not been adequately articulated and
reflected at the level of the workplan which is currently in circulation.
Abul-Fadl goes on to describe how the WTP has been re-conceptualized in light
of the altered vision for the Islamization of knowledge project. The goal of the WTP
changed from the mastery of disciplines to the mastery of the essentials of the Western
heritage in general with disciplines viewed "as links in a chain, which are neither self-
contained entities, nor ends in themselves" (Abul-Fadl 1988:28).
A New Direction
Abul-Fadl's report and the disappointment of the Sudan conference resulted in a
reformulation of the work plan and the trajectory of the IIIT. Central works in this
reformulation include AbuSulayman's (1989) revision of the original work plan in the
book Islamization ofKnowledge: General Principles and Work Plan, 2nd Edition and his
Crisis in the Muslim Mind (AbuSulayman 1993)13 and Al-Alwani's (1995) article
"Islamization of Knowledge: Yesterday and Today."
The focus of work had already been shifting away from the original work plan
towards the development of a general Islamic framework that is described as an Islamic
methodology though I would characterize it more as an Islamic epistemology. According
to AbuSulayman, Islamic methodology is founded on a few basic Islamic tenets. "These
principles constitute the framework of Islamic thought and methodology; they are the
lighthouse that guides Islamic mentality, psychological build-up and personality in
academic and everyday life" (AbuSulayman 1989:33). Foremost among these is the
principle of tawhid or the unity of Allah. Essentially, this means that there is no god but
Allah, and everything derives from Allah. Following this first principle and derived from
it are the principles of the unity of creation, the unity of truth and unity of knowledge, the
unity of life, the unity of humanity, and the complementary nature of revelation and
reason (AbuSulayman 1989).
Al-Alwani (1995) lists three specific goals of the IIIT group: (1) to reintegrate
knowledge and values, (2) to link Allah's two sources of knowledge-His revelation (the
Qur 'an) and His creation (the natural universe), and (3) to redirect Western philosophy's
concern with the problem of ends toward the recognition that this problem is limitless. In
addition, Al-Alwani describes six discourses (see Figure 3-1) that formed the focus of the
IIIT's Islamization of knowledge project at that time. The first discourse aims to
articulate the Islamic paradigm of knowledge or the "Tawhidi Episteme" as Al-Alwani
calls it drawing on Abul-Fadl (1991). The second discourse aims to develop a Qur 'anic
methodology. The third and fourth discourses create methodologies for dealing with the
Qur 'an and Sunnah respectively by which Al-Alwani means relating each source of
knowledge to contemporary society. The fifth discourse re-examines the Islamic
heritage. The sixth discourse aims to deal with the Western intellectual heritage (Al-
Al-Alwani's three goals and six discourses represent a significant departure from
the goal of producing textbooks for Islamized disciplines articulated in the original work
plan. However, the idea that education was a prime location for intervention was still a
dominant theme for the IIIT. For example, AbuSulayman left the IIIT to become Rector
of IIUM in 1988 where he institutionalized the IIIT's ideas on the Islamization of
knowledge (see chapter 5). And in 1996, Al-Alwani and several other IIIT personnel
including Mona Abul-Fadl, Yusuf DeLorenzo, and Iqbal Unus formed the Graduate
School of Islamic and Social Sciences (see below).
IIIT also used the more limited venue of workshops to train and inform Muslims
about the Islamization of Knowledge. I attended several days of such a weeklong
workshop for Muslim university students in Herndon, Virginia in May 1995. The
workshop brought together 40 or so Muslim students from universities throughout the
United States who stayed together at a local hotel and attended daily lectures at IIIT
headquarters. At the workshop, IIIT staff presented materials on the history, objectives,
and current directions of the Islamization of knowledge project.
At the same time, the students were immersed in a thoroughly Islamic
environment. For example, the seating was nominally self-segregated by gender with
brothers generally sitting on one side of the conference table and sisters on the other with
a few exceptions resulting from space constraints. Also, in addition to the usual breaks
for coffee and meals, the workshop broke at Muslim prayer times. For several of the
students I spoke with, the workshop was an eye opening experience. For a few, this was
the case because it was the first time they had been in a social setting that was organized
based upon Muslim ritual requirements. However, many more were excited by the idea
that Islam could be and should be made relevant to their lives outside the narrow confines
Post-GSISS Work at IIT
IIIT refocused its mission again following the founding of GSISS in 1996. IIIT
regional offices continued to operate in relative independence and specialize in specific
areas. The Cairo office worked on economics. The London office did most of the
publishing. And other offices had their own interests.
At IIIT headquarters in Herndon, Virginia, a new focus emerged that expanded
theoretical ideas related to the Islamization of knowledge to practical aspects of the
Muslim community. For example, research on Islamic child rearing practices and
primary education was conducted. Community education and training from an Islamic
perspective is also a focus. A primary example of the latter is the recent founding of the
Fairfax Institute that offers continuing education programs in a variety of areas ranging
from Arabic language to Islamic wills and investments to the American Muslim
community. In addition, IIIT continues to support the AMSS and the publication of
The origins of the GSISS can be traced back to 1985 when Ismail Al-Faruqi and
others at the IIIT had been authorized to enroll students in courses at what was then
named the Islamic Institute of Advanced Studies by the Council of Higher Education of
the Commonwealth of Virginia (SISS 1997b). The plan was revised at the IIIT in the
mid-1990s because IIIT personnel felt that they had built a dependable network of
scholars specializing in enough fields who could and would contribute to the
development of a new curriculum from an Islamic perspective. The Institute of Islamic
and Social Sciences Planning Committee consisting of Iqbal Unus, Muhieldin Attia, and
Yusuf DeLorenzo who were IIIT staff members coordinated preliminary planning. The
final go ahead occurred after financing was secured in meetings held from July 25 to
August 6, 1995, between IIIT officials and officials from the Kuwaiti Department of
Awfaq. The Kuwaitis, who were already familiar with and financial backers of the IIIT,
pledged a total of $5 million towards the new school.14
In the fall of 1996, the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences opened its
doors for classes in half of an unassuming building at the back of an airport office park in
Leesburg, Virginia, about an hour's drive west of Washington, DC. Beginning with a
core staff and faculty that moved from the IIIT and with Taha Al-Alwani as President, the
school began by offering programs leading to either a Masters degree in Islamic Studies
or a Masters degree in Imamate Studies.15 GSISS began with 18 students.16 Four courses
were offered the first semester.
I spent August through December of 1997 at GSISS.17 During this semester,
GSISS had four full-time faculty members, 32 students, and offered 9 regular courses
plus English language for some of the foreign students. The faculty, staff, and personnel
are shown in the GSISS organizational chart presented in Figure 3-2.
We Are Not the IIT
The GSISS administration and faculty emphasized that GSISS was not the IIIT.
Even before I was officially doing fieldwork when I visited GSISS in July 1997 to try to
make arrangements for the fall, DeLorenzo told me that the split between IIIT and GSISS
was important. At the purely bureaucratic level, some separation is mandated by the
Virginia accreditation regulations and requirements. However, some personnel and board
members do overlap. And while funding for GSISS and IIIT is independent of each
other, it primarily comes from the same sources with about a 50/50 split between
American and foreign sources.18
DeLorenzo also made clear that the differences went beyond the bureaucratic
level to the intellectual level. According to DeLorenzo, GSISS had broadened the
horizon of IIIT and the IOK project to incorporate a more collaborative vision linking
science and values in society that includes or at least considers other "People of the
Book," i.e. Jews and Christians. One central reason for this is that the missions of the
two institutions are different. The focus at GSISS, as an institution of higher education,
is on academics with an emphasis placed on producing specialized scholars while the
focus at the IIIT, as a "think tank," is on the production of generalized "manifestos" by
already established scholars.19
Dr. Taha made similar points during one of our meetings during the fall semester.
Dr. Taha stated, "Islam needs at this time to deal with all nations as part of the audience
for its discourse." According to Dr. Taha, there are two meanings of Islam. The general
meaning is related to Abraham and all the prophets (Abrahamic Islam). According to this
perspective, Islam "means to follow God without objection." Therefore, anyone can be a
Muslim if they follow God. The second, more specialized meaning, is related to Muslims
as opposed to Jews and Christians. According to Al-Alwani, GSISS views Islam from
the Abrahamic point of view while IIIT defines Islam more narrowly.20
At the curricular level, this view translates into trying to integrate social sciences
and .,\/hi ilh sciences. According to Dr. Taha, this goal goes beyond the goals of the IOK
project of IIIT because all divine sources are relevant. Referring to IOK, Dr. Taha stated,
"We are past that."21
In a separate interview on November 17, 1997, Dr. Taha outlined the broader
reasons for moving beyond the IOK. Dr. Taha said that the IOK "needs to be reviewed"
because "the world is becoming only one small village" and "I think we need something
dealing with the [common] values [by] which we can put the whole human being
together." Dr. Taha felt that the IOK was open to misinterpretation and that this could
hinder the broader project of developing common values.
GSISS is struggling to create an institutional identity. The struggle to define the
institutional identity is apparent in the development of the academic programs,
specializations, core curriculum, and their representations in GSISS catalogs and
operationalization in classes. In the fall of 1996, GSISS opened with two main academic
programs. One led to a Master of Arts in Islamic Studies degree while the second led to a
Master of Imamate Studies degree. The Islamic Studies program had sub-specializations
in "Islamic Studies" (i.e. .\/i, tall sciences) and "Social Sciences" (i.e. history and
politics) (SISS 1996).
During the first few years of operation, the curriculum at GSISS evolved and
changed. The development of the curriculum began in late 1994 and was guided by a
curriculum committee that sent letters to hundreds of individuals who had been
associated with the IIIT at some time. Many individuals responded to the letter and sent
everything from detailed suggestions to specific syllabi for proposed courses. The
committee then began to design a curriculum based partly on the responses and also
partly on pragmatic decisions about who could be counted on to teach courses at GSISS
once it opened. Thus, .,/i, ia/ h sciences, history, and political science were selected.22
According to Dr. Taha, the sub-specializations were chosen for specific reasons.
The Shariah sciences specialization was chosen because GSISS aims to integrate the
social sciences and the ,\/in ih/ sciences. History was chosen because every civilization
needs to understand how their sciences developed in history. Therefore, history is
relevant to develop a link with the past-an idea about how to connect the past to the
present. Political science is important because the main problems today involve the
relationship between people and the rulers of Muslim states. All the ideas about Islam
and democracy are built on the idea that the historical traditions of the Muslim world
were shaped by the politics in a particular locale. In addition, when one is trying to
rebuild a system, it is important to understand the political system. When studied
together, the links and the tensions are exposed. In addition, Dr. Taha said he hopes to
include economics and education eventually.23
The next step was to select a core curriculum. A number of meetings were held at
IIIT to determine the core courses. One significant debate pitted Dr. Taha against
AbdulHamid AbuSulayman. Dr. Taha argued for the centrality of usul al-fiqh while
AbuSulayman argued to do away with all of the traditional Islamic sciences. In the end,
Dr. Taha, who is working to transform aspects of usul al-fiqh to make it suitable for use
as a methodology for the social sciences, won the day and usul al-fiqh became the first
core course.24 In total, ten courses were selected for the core curriculum and appear in
the 1996-1997 Graduate Catalog from which students had to select four courses (SISS
In subsequent catalogs, the core curriculum was parsed down to five courses in
1997 and then four courses in 1998 (see SISS 1997c; SISS 1998). According to Yusuf
DeLorenzo, this was done primarily to eliminate redundancies and overlap between
courses.26 Three core courses are present in each instantiation: (1) Epistemology of
Islam, (2) Seminar in the Methodology of Comparative Religion and Civilization, and (3)
Methodology of Islamic Legal Theory.27
In a sense, GSISS is a global space trying to reach out to disparate audiences. In
an interview with Dr. Taha as fellow faculty and administrators call him or Sheikh Taha
as most of the students call him, he explained that his goal is for GSISS to be a
recognized American-style graduate school specializing in Islamic studies. Dr. Taha was
very clear that he did not want GSISS to be an "Islamic seminary." Dr. Taha was upset
about local media coverage that has portrayed the school exclusively as an Islamic
seminary latching onto the Imam program and ignoring what Dr. Taha sees as the schools
core function, which is the Masters Program in Islamic Studies.28
The Making of the American Imam
The second academic program available when GSISS opened in 1996 was the
Masters of Imamate Studies program. Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo2 supervised the Imamate
program when I visited GSISS. At the time in 1997, the program was the only such
program in the world. In the Muslim world, Imams and Khatibs are trained either in
traditional Islamic schools (madaaris) or universities or in state-run Imam training
schools aimed at producing "domesticated Imams" and no Masters level programs exist
at all. In either case, according to DeLorenzo, students are trained exclusively in the
classical Islamic sciences and not in any of the practical skills needed to lead a mosque
and serve the needs of the community.30
The Imam program originated in the late summer or early Fall of 1995.
Previously, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) made the American Muslim
Council (AMC) the sole endorser of Muslim chaplain candidates to serve as chaplains for
the DoD. According to DeLorenzo, the first Muslim Imam was trained by and received a
Master of Divinity degree from the Lutheran Seminary in Chicago. Although the
individual also took courses at the American Islamic College of Chicago, there was a
general dissatisfaction at the AMC and among Muslims in the military about the idea of
Muslim chaplains being trained at a Christian seminary.31
The AMC was having difficulty locating institutions to train Imam candidates and
approached DeLorenzo in his role as a secretary of the Fiqh Council of North America
about the possibility of creating a Muslim organized and operated program to train
Imams for the DoD. Yusuf and the AMC agreed that GSISS might serve in this capacity
and Yusuf spoke to Dr. Taha and Basheer Nafi at the IIIT and, after much debate, they
agreed that GSISS should operate an Imamate program alongside of the Islamic Studies
The program began with four students and had expanded to seven students the
second year (SISS 1997b). While most of the Imam students are from the United States'
military and plan to return to the military as chaplains upon completion of their degrees,
there was also immediate interest in the program from individuals working as Imams in
the American prison system and in community mosques. According to DeLorenzo, there
is a great need for professionally trained Imams in the United States and the goal of
GSISS is to train Imams for the military, the prison systems, and the American Muslim
community at large.33
DeLorenzo told me that at that time in 1997 the number of Muslims in the United
States' military would allow for the placement of fifty to sixty Muslim chaplains
immediately if they existed and this figure was expected to double in five years. Muslims
in the military are roughly equally divided between African Americans and immigrant
Muslims. According to DeLorenzo, for many immigrant Muslims, the military is like a
family business. Fathers and grandfathers served in the military in their native countries
and so it is only natural that the immigrants would also serve in the military.34
American prison systems are also in need of Muslim chaplains to serve Muslim
inmates. For example, when I was at GSISS in May 2000, negotiations were under way
with the prison systems of the states of New York and Georgia for the training of fifteen
Imams each.35 In addition, several individuals serving as Imams in prisons had shown
interest in the program at GSISS.
DeLorenzo felt the program was important and timely because many American
Muslims viewed Imams, and especially the Imams imported from abroad, as ill prepared
for the American context. According to DeLorenzo, American mosques established in
the 1970s and 1980s were usually founded by immigrants from a particular state or ethnic
group be it Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, or what have you. These mosques often imported an
Imam from their home country. However, as the immigrants became firmly established
in America and had children born and raised in the United States, the practice of
importing Imams has declined. According to DeLorenzo, foreign-born Imams lack the
needed experience in the American context to be able to relate to the problems and issues
facing second and third generation Muslims. Oftentimes, the Imam does not speak
English and the individuals born and raised in the United States do not speak Arabic or
Urdu or Farsi, etc.36
As personal identity has shifted from ethnicity and national origin towards Islam,
Muslims from many backgrounds now attend the same American mosques. This fact
also has reduced the number of imported Imams. According to DeLorenzo, at the larger
mosques, directors are expected to hold a PhD in Islamic studies, comparative religion, or
increasingly education as Islamic primary schools affiliated with mosques open and
Despite the obvious need for professionally trained Imams. There was much
internal debate at the IIIT about whether GSISS should get involved with training Imams.
This was due partly to Muslim inhibitions against clergy and partly because of the low
regard for Imams in the Middle East and their traditional association with political
authority. According to DeLorenzo, the word "Imam" is problematic because in the
classical tradition it is immediately associated with "al-Imama al-k.tlil (t" or the great
Imamerate which means political authority. The Emir al-Mumineen was also the Imam.
The Sultan was also the Imam. Thus, according to DeLorenzo:
In today's climate of fundamentalism and suspicion on the parts of Muslim
governments, or nominal Muslim governments...we talk about Imams or a
program for Imaman [Arabic plural of Imam] then immediately eyebrows are
raised wondering, "what is this?" Not only that, there is no clergy in Islam so to
speak, no ecclesiastical hierarchy....I know that people have looked askance at
SISS having a program for Imams for the reason that they suppose we are
attempting to ordain Imams here.38
Nasr Arif, an Egyptian professor of political science at GSISS, indicated that there was
also an image problem with the Imam program. As he told me, "People [in the Middle
East] might think why should Imams be trained in the United States?"39
Another point of contention is the prospect of training women as Imams.
DeLorenzo described the issue of women Imams as follows:
When you mention Imam and you mention women then you really get into a
sticky situation. If we [GSISS] offer our women students degrees in Imamate
studies, a Masters of Imamate, then to some sectors of the community it would be
tantamount to our saying that we endorse the Imamate of women-that they can
lead prayers, that they can do this and that and the other thing-which is not the
case. That's a major sort of leap. Rather, what the intention would be if and
when we accept women candidates would be to prepare them for essentially the
chaplaincy to deal with the problems of Muslim women and children and families
in the military because there is a reluctance on the part of both immigrant Muslim
women and African American Muslim women ... to interact with males, whether
it be their post chaplain or whether he's a Jew or Christian or a Muslim, it doesn't
really matter .... For that reason we would certainly like to have Muslim women
in place in the chaplaincy corp.40
DeLorenzo, for the same reasons, expects GSISS to train women for the
American prison system and to serve as officials in community mosques and Islamic
The playing down of the Imam program, despite a full third of the GSISS students
being in the Imam program, is a conscious strategy resulting from the negative stereotype
of Imams as ignorant prayer leaders prominent in the Middle East and still held among
many first generation immigrants to the United States. This strategy is clearly evident in
a comparison of English and Arabic versions of the catalog. In the English "official"
catalog, the Imam program is present and prominently discussed. While in the Arabic
"unofficial" catalog created for Arabic language audiences who might send students,
sponsor scholarships, or provide other financial support, the Imam program is buried in a
long list of professional programs of which only the Imam program existed at that time
(see SISS 1997c; SISS 1997d).
However, extensive sections on the GSISS mission, its uniqueness, and a
justification of its location in the United States are present that are not included or only
briefly mentioned in the English language catalog. These sections construct GSISS as a
global space distinct from both its physical location in Leesburg, Virginia, and free from
the problems of the locations where the catalog is being read in the Middle East. GSISS
is presented as a utopian field where the best of East and West combine to create a whole
greater than the sum of its parts that "goes beyond the contradictory dualism between
science and values and negates the dualism between East and West" (SISS 1997d: 14).
To quote from the Arabic catalog:
The location SISS has chosen is a virgin land, which has not experienced the
complicated cultural legacy, or the contradictory ideological formulations [that
the Middle East has]. It does not contain stale old civilizational inheritances. It is
a land in which pluralism and freedom constitute its basic foundations .... [It]
constitutes a unique location which has no equal in the modern world for such a
project .... The United States of America, with its academic environment, is the
place where intellectual trends are formed on a worldwide level .... North
America constitutes an unequaled place for this university where SISS can be a
fruitful fountain of knowledge in contact with all the peoples of the world. This
university is not simply a normal academic institution that can be counted among
the existing list of universities. It is not a university limited to a particular culture
reflecting a nationalist, ethnic, religious, or sectarian mindset .... It contains an
intellectual proposal reflecting a paradigm [which is one of only a half dozen
words or so that appears in English in the Arabic catalog] which attempts to
encompass and go beyond what is present in the modern social sciences (which
are of European origin) and the Islamic sciences (which possess a traditional
methodology) [al-manhajia al-taqlidia]. (SISS 1997d: 14)
This utopian vision contrasts markedly with GSISS's modest circumstances in the
far suburbs of Washington, DC. The location in the last building of a small airport office
park and the physical structure of the building itself do not attract attention. The lettering
above the entryway is nearly too small to see from the parking lot. The marginalization
of Islam from the American mainstream is self-consciously duplicated in the materiality
of the school (see Figure 3-3).
The conflict between the contrasting representations of GSISS's institutional
identity in the Arabic catalog with its declaration of the negation of East and West, in the
English language catalog where it is portrayed as an American-style graduate school, and
in the media's description as an Islamic seminary is also apparent inside the school where
individuals' own identities and backgrounds impacted their views of GSISS identity.
Students raised in the United States and used to American categories concerning
religion and religious institutions viewed GSISS, like the American media, more as an
Islamic seminary than as a graduate school. One second-generation American, for
example, asked me how I liked being at GSISS. When I replied I enjoyed being there
and that everyone was very friendly and helpful, she got a surprised look on her face and
said, "Really! I could never feel comfortable in a Christian seminary."41 Another
American student with whom I was discussing my thoughts about the school's identity
stated, "Well if it isn't an Islamic seminary, then what is it?" A third American student
who dropped out of course work for the semester but was visiting asked me whether the
school was "more academic now." I asked what she meant and she replied that she
wondered whether there was more room for "analysis" and discussion of readings rather
than just acceptance at face value of whatever the professors say.42
In contrast, two students raised and educated through the undergraduate level
abroad told me how different GSISS was from schools in the Middle East and that there
was much more freedom to think for oneself rather than being told what to think. One of
the students thought the increased intellectual freedom had do to with the school being in
the United States where there was generally more freedom in everything while the other
attributed it to the general condition of "modernity" which was increasing freedom
However, there were still limits to this freedom. A couple of weeks later when I
asked one of the same students who had told me how much freedom there was at GSISS
why none of the students had challenged Dr. Taha when he said that women are naturally
better at raising families than at intellectual studies, she replied, "He is our sheikh, what
would you have us do?" When I mentioned this incident to Nasr Arif, he noted that it
was a cultural thing to respect scholars and especially religious scholars, "where I come
from we kiss their hands."44
Different Schools of Thought
Contrary to what one might expect based upon a review of the literature on the
Islamization of knowledge, on the ground at GSISS, individuals' positions concerning the
Islamization of knowledge are less rigidly definable into neat epistemological categories.
What I mean by this is that (1) there are advocates of competing epistemological
approaches in the Islamization of knowledge debate represented among the faculty and
student body, (2) the majority of individuals are not wed to a particular position within
the Islamization of knowledge debate are interested in a variety of theoretical approaches
within the debate, and (3) many of the individuals (particularly the students) are not
interested in the specific details of the Islamization of knowledge debates and are
motivated more by identity than ideology.
At GSISS in 1997, advocates of each of the three epistemological approaches I
outlined in chapter one were present. Taha Al-Alwani, Mona Abul-Fadl, and Nasr Arif
each advocated an indigenization approach that seeks to combine the best aspects of the
Islamic and Western heritages. Each, however, seeks to do this in a slightly different way
based upon personal background. Al-Alwani, an Arab Iraqi trained at Al-Azhar
University in .\/hti htI sciences and without formal training in the social sciences, wants
to refine the methods used in the traditional ,/i,// Itti sciences in order to use them to
address social scientific questions. Abul-Fadl, a political scientist raised bi-culturally in
Egypt and England, has outlined a tawhidic episteme derived from the heritage of Islamic
civilization. However, Abul-Fadl approaches the Islamic heritage very differently than
does her husband Al-Alwani. Rather than emphasizing .\hi iah, Abul-Fadl looks to the
cultural heritage including contributions made by Jews and Christians living in Muslim
lands for inspiration. She also looks to participants in the Islamization of knowledge
debate beyond and even highly antagonistic toward the views of the IIIT. The result is a
much more secular framework that none the less links knowledge and values. Nasr Arif,
an Egyptian political scientist who was trained by Abul-Fadl as an undergraduate at Cairo
University, draws upon Abul-Fadl's work but focuses more narrowly on ideas from the
Islamic civilizational heritage relevant to political science in his research though he draws
on a wide range of material in his teaching.
S. H. Nasr and two of his students advocated a nativization approach. S. H. Nasr,
an Iranian, Shi 'i, Sufi, and a professor at George Washington University, gave a series of
invited lectures at GSISS the semester I was there and taught a course on the history of
Islamic science the following semester. While having no real influence on the direction
of GSISS, his students strongly advocated his perennialist school of thought at GSISS.
A Turkish political science post-doctoral scholar represented the modernist
approach. In addition, I could be placed in this category. However, as a non-Muslim
"visitor" to GSISS, I was treated differently than the nominally Muslim secular Turk.
The differences in the various approaches are best illustrated through brief
vignettes in which advocates of opposing positions engaged each other in classes and in
conversations outside of class. Indeed, much of the semester, I spent engaged in
discussion with individuals trying to convince me of the superiority of their
A key to understanding Al-Alwani's epistemological approach is his two readings
principle. According to Al-Alwani, any true account of the universe needs to combine
readings from both revelation and the visible universe. Revelation (which consists of the
Qur 'an and Sunnah) and the visible universe constitute the only two verifiable sources of
knowledge and both sources are needed to attain valid knowledge. Al-Alwani argues:
To undertake a reading of either without reference to the other will neither benefit
humanity nor lead it to the sort of comprehensive knowledge necessary for the
building and maintenance of civilized society or to knowledge worthy of
preservation and further development or exchange. (Al-Alwani 1995:85)
In contrast, S. H. Nasr and his students drawing on their Sufi practices look to
different sources of knowledge. As one student explained to me, there are two types of
knowledge: (1) principle knowledge and (2) secondary knowledge. The sources of
principle knowledge are (1) revelation and (2) intellectionn" (direct knowing from
communion with Allah). Secondary knowledge is derivable from principle knowledge
but the reverse is not true. The proper metaphysics is critical for understanding the
universe. According to this student, the universe is divided into four vertical levels with
relationships possible between the vertical levels and horizontally within each level.
Western science only is capable of examining secondary knowledge of our own
horizontal level and this leads to error. A correct Islamic science, in this student's view,
focuses on principle knowledge that is without error by definition because it comes
directly from Allah either through revelation or direct personal experience intellectionn)
of Allah. Islamic science and Sufism, from this perspective, never change. There is no
progress only unveiling.45
While S. H. Nasr and his students locate Sufism at the center of Islam and Islamic
science, Al-Alwani views Sufism as merely part of the Islamic heritage that needs to be
examined and evaluated. Al-Alwani divides Sufism into two types. The first is good or
permissible Sufism ("tasuf inllii") that "represents some of the Islamic system of
spiritual life" and the second is Sufism that goes beyond the permissible ("tasufbid'i").46
In a class dealing specifically with Sufism, Al-Alwani asked students to debate
the boundary between sunni and bid'i Sufism. Students chose whether they preferred to
argue for a more narrow or a more expansive definition of sunni Sufism. S. H. Nasr's
two students chose to argue the more expansive side of the debate as did a student from
Egypt and an American female convert to Islam while the other three students chose to
argue for a narrower definition. Al-Alwani asked which side I wanted to be on and I
decided on the more inclusive side because I was sharing an apartment with both of S. H.
Nasr's students. Al-Alwani assigned me the nominal role of defining "bid'a" and
"bid'i." The following week we held the debate in class. It was clear that the more
inclusive side won the debate. Al-Alwani was not pleased by the presentations of the
students arguing for the narrower side and asked that the debate be repeated the following
week. He also reassigned me to the narrower side with the task of defining "sunni." The
second debate was closer though the more inclusive side probably won again.47 Al-
Alwani spent most of the rest of the class arguing the more narrow side of the debate
back and forth with S. H. Nasr's students.48
In one conversation between the Turkish post-doc, one of S. H. Nasr's students,
and myself, the Turk argued along secular relativist/perspectivist lines using the metaphor
of "multiple windows" while S. H. Nasr's student argued in favor of absolute Truth as the
only possible valid perspective. Afterwards, S. H. Nasr's student told me referring to the
multiple windows argument "I just don't get this argument. What does he want me to do,
look at the world from a false perspective rather than the Truth?"49 On another occasion,
the Turk and the student of S. H. Nasr discussed the direction GSISS was heading. S. H.
Nasr's student wanted GSISS to abandon the idea of becoming an American style
graduate school and instead become an "Islamic Academy" specializing in usul al-fiqh,
'ilm al-kalam, Islamic economics, and related fields with the goal of promoting an
Islamic alternative to secularism along the lines advocated by S. H. Nasr. The Turk
thought that GSISS would have a negligible impact if it followed that path.50 And while
the Turk was skeptical of S. H. Nasr's position, he was even more skeptical of the views
of central figures at IIIT and GSISS. He told me that I could easily deconstruct the IIIT
but that they were not very important. He suggested that because most of the faculty at
GSISS were "diaspora intellectuals" they did not fully grasp either the West or the East
but chose to locate themselves in the Western discourse in order to speak back to their
homeland using their location in the West for authority. He went so far as to say that the
IIIT/GSISS held a double skepticism in that they were skeptical in their belief in Islam
and of science.
Most of the individuals at GSISS did not hold such strong views. One student I
spoke to wondered which position I thought was most credible. When I asked him the
same question he told me that while impressed by S. H. Nasr's lectures he was unsure
about Sufism.52 Another student I asked about the Islamization of knowledge said she
was not familiar with it at all and another had just started studying about it for class at
Similarly, several students attended GSISS more due to issues of identity and a
general interest in Islam than anything else. One student told me she attended GSISS as
"a hobby" to learn more about the Islamic heritage to help her with her work with
Muslim women.54 Another student, who had converted to Islam, decided to attend
because she felt she needed to learn more about Islam and GSISS was the only Islamic
university in the United States.5
The debates about the Islamization of knowledge at IIIT and GSISS are occurring
at a time that Muslim identity has emerged in the United States. The original idea
proposed by the IIIT to develop textbooks in order to train the next generation of Muslim
intellectuals capable of reforming Muslim society has not come to fruition. However, the
ideas, themselves, have developed and changed as the American context has changed and
as individuals have taken the ideas from the institutional context of a think tank to an
institution of higher education. The IIIT has continued to adapt to the needs of the
Muslim American community and now focuses much more attention on practical issues
related to being Muslim in a non-Muslim country.
In terms of GSISS, I would like to concur with the sentiment of one employee
who described GSISS as "an experiment."56 GSISS is an intellectual and a social
experiment. At the intellectual level, GSISS proposes to link knowledge and values,
reason and revelation by developing the "Tawhidi episteme" that bridges East and West
by identifying and unifying the universal aspects in each. At the social level, GSISS
proposes to transform students into modern, rational, critical thinking Muslims capable of
remaking Muslim society using a bottom up approach from within Muslim society rather
than a top down approach at the political level. The individuals at GSISS must search for
ways to overcome the differences in cultural backgrounds and expectations that each
brings to the table. The ability of individuals to set aside at least some of their
differences and work together toward helping students reach their full potentials is the
first step toward the utopian vision of GSISS.
As a new generation of scholars interested in the Islamization of knowledge
emerges, they are transforming discussions of IOK. On the ground, IOK is less rigidly
definable into neat epistemological categories. And, the local institutional and national
contexts have a significant impact on the operational implementation of IOK as we shall
see as we follow the Islamization of knowledge debate to Malaysia.
Islamization of Knowledge: Six Discourses
First Discourse: Articulating the Islamic Paradigm of Knowledge (Tawhidi Episteme)
Second Discourse: Developing a Qur 'anic Methodology
Third Discourse: Methodology for Dealing with the Qur 'an
Fourth Discourse: Methodology for Dealing with the Sunnah
Fifth Discourse: Re-Examining the Islamic Heritage
Sixth Discourse: Dealing with the Western Intellectual Heritage
Figure 3-1. The Six Discourses of Al-Alwani
Board of Trustees
President Academic Advisors
Dean of Students Dean of Administration Faculty
Director of Library
Board of Trustees: Chair Anwar Ibrahim, Vice Chair Dr. Taha J. Al-Alwani,
Secretary Dr. Nasr Arif, Dr. Kamal Hassan, Dr. Ali Mazrui, Dr. Ali Zumai
President: Dr. Taja J. Al-Alwani
Dean of Students: Dr. Iqbal Unus
Dean of Administration: Dr. Mohammad Jaghlit
Faculty (full-time): Dr. Taja J. Al-Alwani, Dr. Mona Abul-Fadl, Dr. Nasr Arif, Yusuf
Director of Library: G. Yazdani Siddiqi
Figure 3-2. Organizational Chart for the Graduate School of Islamic and Social
Sciences in Leesburg, Virginia during Fall 1997.
Figure 3-3. The Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg, Virginia.
1 Edward Said offers detailed studies of how Islam and Muslims were used historically to
define the West (Said 1978) and how contemporary media coverage represents Islam and
Muslims (Said 1997).
2 For a more detailed discussion of American foreign policy in the Middle East see
Haddad (1991a) and Bennis (2003).
3 Professor Wan was MSA President in 1982-1983 and he was also President of the
Malaysian Islamic Study Group of the United States and Canada. This information is
based on Professor Wan's biodata sheets he provided me while I was in Malaysia in
4 See Ahmed (1991) for an overview of these organizations.
5 One can similarly problematize many other popular and media representations of events
involving Muslims. The representation of OPEC as Arab and Muslim rather than as
comprised by nations from many regions of the world, the representation of Palestinian
radicalism as Islamic terrorism, and the representation of long existing tribal/ethnic
conflicts in Aceh as a new conflict between Muslims and Christians are just three such
examples. Said (1978; 1997) provides an excellent discussion of the Western
representations of "the other" and the media representations of Islam and Muslims. For
an overview of the formation of Muslim identity in relation to American foreign policy
see Haddad (1991a).
6 The School of Islamic and Social Sciences changed its name to the Graduate School of
Islamic and Social Sciences in 1999 to eliminate confusion among many members of the
American Muslim community who thought that GSISS was a primary or secondary
school similar to other Muslim parochial schools located throughout the US. In the
spring of 2005, GSISS was integrated into the newly founded Cordoba University. I use
the name GSISS in this dissertation except in cases where SISS is used directly in a
quotation or is the author of the document in question. In either case, GSISS, SISS, and
Cordoba University all refer to the same institution.
7 Personal communication from Taha Al-Alwani at GSISS on November 17, 1997.
Yusuf DeLorenzo, who was at the conference in Islamabad and later worked at IIIT and
GSISS, told me that this account seemed likely because although he had no specific
information regarding the development of the initial work plan, Al-Faruqi's ultimate goal
was always creating an Islamic institute of higher education in the United States
(Personal communication Yusuf DeLorenzo at GSISS).
8 Personal communication with Taha Al-Alwani at GSISS on November 17, 1997.
9 See chapter 5 for a more detailed discussion of IIUM and IIIT's activities in Malaysia.
10 Personal communication with Taha Al-Alwani at GSISS on November 17, 1997.
11 Personal communication with Taha Al-Alwani at GSISS on November 17, 1997.
12 Mona Abul-Fadl and Taha Al-Alwani also married during this time.
13 1 discuss AbuSulayman's Crisis in the Muslim Mind in more detail in Chapter 5.
14 This account is based upon a copy of an internal IIIT document titled "A Summary of
the Meetings to Establish The Institute of Islamic and Social Sciences at Virginia, in the
United States of America" that specifies participants in the meetings, provides a brief
summary of the meetings, and specifies nine points to which the parties agreed and a
personal communication with YusufDeLorenzo at GSISS on September 25, 1997, who
was also present at the meetings.
15 The Imam program primarily trains Muslims to be Chaplains in the United States'
armed forces and state prison systems.
16 This figure for the number of students comes from a printout the Dean of Students
Iqbal Unus gave me. A separate document (SISS 1997b), cites a different figure
including 36 students of which 18 withdrew. Dr. Iqbal assured me that the figure on his
printout was the correct figure. Of the 18 students, 11 were enrolled in the Islamic
Studies program and 5 in the Imamate program. In the spring of 1997, 31 students
enrolled for classes.
17 In addition, I returned to GSISS for a week in May 2000 and also met with several
current and former GSISS personnel and students at the AMSS meetings held at
Georgetown University in October 2000. Finally, I have also kept abreast of
developments via email and the GSISS website.
18 Personal communication with YusufDeLorenzo at GSISS on July 1, 1997.
19 Personal communication with YusufDeLorenzo at GSISS on July 1, 1997.
20 Personal communication with Taha Al-Alwani at GSISS on September 15, 1997.
21 Personal communication with Taha Al-Alwani at GSISS on September 15, 1997.
22 Personal communication with Yusuf DeLorenzo at GSISS on September 25, 1997. By
the fall of 1997, the two specializations had expanded to three as "social sciences" was
divided into specializations in "history" and "political science" (SISS 1997c).
Interestingly, only political science was one of the seven disciplines targeted by IIIT for
Islamization in the late 1980s (see IIIT 1989).
23 Personal communication with Taha Al-Alwani at GSISS on September 15, 1997.
24 Personal communication with Yusuf DeLorenzo at GSISS on September 25, 1997.
25 The ten courses included: (1) Research Methodology in the Social Sciences, (2) The
Epistemology of Islam, (3) Islamic Legal Theory (usul al-fiqh), (4) Comparative Religion
and Civilization, (5) Prophethood and the State, (6) Islamic History and Civilization, (7)
Islamic Reform Movements, (8) Moder and Contemporary Islamic Movements, (9)
Islamic Philosophy, and (10) Special Topics-Independent Studies (see SISS 1996:11-
26 Personal communication with Yusuf DeLorenzo at GSISS on September 25, 1997.
27 Of these three core courses, only the Epistemology of Islam was taught the semester I
was at GSISS. I will discuss this class in detail below. A fourth course, Research
Methodology, was part of the core curriculum in the 1996 and 1997 catalogs and was still
required in the 1998 catalog though it was not officially considered a part of the core
28 Personal communication with Taha Al-Alwani at GSISS on October 15, 1997.
29 DeLorenzo is a Euro-American convert to Islam. Born within sight of Plymouth Rock,
he grew up with the Vonnegut and Kennedy children as friends. He converted to Islam
after completing his BA degree and traveling in the Muslim world. After briefly
attending Al-Azhar University in Cairo, he went to Pakistan where he spent seven years
studying in a traditional madrasa. There he married his wife Aisha from a prominent
Pakistani family in a marriage arranged by his Sheikh. Later, he and his family moved to
Sri Lanka where he ran an Islamic boarding school before returning to Pakistan to serve
as a high ranking official in the Ministry of Education when General Zia ul-Haq led
Pakistan. He and his family moved to the United States in the mid-1980s. DeLorenzo
was hired by the IIIT as part of its translation department before moving to GSISS in
1996 as head of the Imam program along with several IIIT staff members. He left GSISS
shortly after I did and he now works as a freelance translator, consults for companies
interested in offering services that conform to Islamic law, teaches courses on Islamic
economic, and serves on the Fiqh Council overseeing halal mutual fund investments
which has earned him the honorary title the Sheikh of Wall Street. This brief sketch is
derived from personal communications with Yusuf DeLorenzo at GSISS on October 28,
October 30, December 1, December 2, December 3, December 4, December 5, December
8, December 9, and December 10, 1997 and at his home in May and October 2000.
30 Personal communications with YusufDeLorenzo at GSISS on July 1, 1997, September
18, 1997, September 25, 1997, and September 26, 1997.
31 Personal communication with Yusuf DeLorenzo at GSISS on September 26, 1997.
32 Personal communication with Yusuf DeLorenzo at GSISS on September 26, 1997.
33 Personal communication with Yusuf DeLorenzo at GSISS on September 26, 1997.
34 Personal communication with Yusuf DeLorenzo at GSISS on September 26, 1997.
35 Personal communication with Taha Al-Alwani at GSISS on May 20, 2000.
36 Personal communication with Yusuf DeLorenzo at GSISS on September 26, 1997.
37 Personal communication with Yusuf DeLorenzo at GSISS on September 26, 1997.
38 Personal communication with Yusuf DeLorenzo at GSISS on September 26, 1997.
39 Personal communication with Nasr Arif at GSISS on December 17, 1997. I would
suggest there is also a question of authority and authenticity involved as well.
40 Interestingly, DeLorenzo described an early meeting with a chaplain from the
Department of Defense in which, after looking over the proposed curriculum, the
chaplain said to him, "obviously you won't be having any women candidates in your
program". DeLorenzo says he laughed and replied, "why obviously?" to which the
chaplain replied "obviously". Personal communication with Yusuf DeLorenzo at GSISS
on September 26, 1997.
41 Personal communication at GSISS on September 29, 1997. Please note that I am not
identifying students by name.
42 Personal communication at GSISS on November 24, 1997.
43 Personal communication at GSISS on September 15, 1997.
44 Personal communication with Nasr Arif at GSISS on December 11, 1997.
45 Personal communication at GSISS on October 13, October 17, and October 24, 1997.
While I do not have space to provide detailed descriptions, the four metaphysical levels
are from highest to lowest: beyond being, being, logos, and manifestations. Humans
everyday experience is at the level of manifestations. The only ways for humans to sense
the higher levels are through revelation and intellection.
46 Personal communication with Taha Al-Alwani at GSISS on November 17, 1997.
47 The result of the debate was at least partly determined by gender dynamics. In the first
debate, the more inclusive side consisted of one female and four males including myself.
The three males had a relatively equal say in the discussion of how to argue the debate.
The lone female could not attend the organizing meeting while I deferred to the group.
The narrow side consisted of one male and three females. When I was reassigned for the
second debate, I learned that rather than using an egalitarian or meritocratous style of
interaction the younger women deferred to the eldest woman who made all the decisions
because the male could not attend the meeting. Thus, because the most knowledgeable
woman on the debate topic was not the senior woman, she had little impact on the
strategy used in the debate.
48 Account based on participant observation in Sufism class at GSISS on October 15,
October 22, and October 29, 1997.
49 Personal communication at GSISS on October 2, 1997.
50 Personal communication at GSISS on November 5, 1997.
51 Personal communication at GSISS on November 6, 1997.
52 Personal communication at GSISS on November 24, 1997.
53 Personal communications at GSISS on October 24 and December 16, 1997.
54 Personal communication at GSISS on September 29, 1997.
5Personal communication at GSISS on December 15, 1997.
56 Personal communication at GSISS on October 6, 1997.