Rethinking Reform in Higher Education, From Islamization to Integration of Knowledge by Ziauddin Sardar and Jeremy Henzell-Thomas

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Charles E. Butterworth

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Abstract

This volume, one of the most important and timely publications of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), represents the latest effort by scholars associated with the organization to formulate an educational program for Muslims. Ziauddin Sardar and Jeremy Henzell-Thomas revise and update the attempts by Ismail Faruqi and fellow founders of IIIT in the 1980s to address the crisis of education faced then by Muslim societies.
That is appropriate, for the crisis has not disappeared with the passage of time. If anything, it has become greater and now encompasses Muslims worldwide—not just those in Muslim societies. And, as the authors of this volume note repeatedly, it has captured the attention of educators in the US, UK, and most other European nations.
Now, eschewing the older Islamization of knowledge approach, Sardar and Henzell-Thomas propose the integration of knowledge. They set aside the old paradigm while offering minimal comments about the shortcomings that warrant such a change, perhaps so as to avoid giving rise to unnecessary quarrels. Major attention must be accorded, therefore, what the authors understand integration of knowledge to be and how it might address the needs of their specific audience—Muslim societies. One must wonder, all the same, why the audience is so defined. After all, the crisis of education affects people everywhere, Muslims in Muslim and non-Muslim societies as well as non-Muslims living in Muslim and non-Muslim societies. How do differences in political and economic problems faced by these various groups affect the educational goals to be achieved and who is affected by them?
Another preliminary objection concerns the way both the earlier IIIT reformers and those involved in the new project ignore or neglect the critique of shortcomings in educational approaches launched in the US early in the twentieth century by Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler, a critique that culminated in the Great Books movement. It, or, more accurately, offshoots of it, have given rise to attempts at general or liberal education in numerous American and European institutions. Especially pertinent for the integration of knowledge project is how these offshoots of the Great Books movement, ostensibly centered on Western writings at the outset, have gradually come to incorporate fundamental texts from the Golden Age of the Arabic and Islamic tradition. Today more than ever, it is essential to promote the cultural phenomena common to all. Only greater awareness of the extent to which we are one people will allow us to counter those who seek to divide us and thereby fuel enmity.
Finally, no attention is accorded here to how the issues identified with the crisis of education are addressed in other faith traditions or to the way members of those traditions attempt to integrate the teachings of revealed texts with ones arising from simple human reasoning. Such a broader focus would have permitted the authors to propose an approach that might resonate with the general malaise expressed by many educators and suggest a way forward that all, not just Muslims, could embrace.
Still, these preliminary objections are just that, preliminary. To assess their merit, it is essential to consider carefully what is actually proposed in the volume under review. It consists of a Foreword setting forth the basic principles of the revised project and four chapters. The first, “Mapping the Terrain,” is by Sardar, as is the second, “From Islamization to Integration of Knowledge.” Henzell-Thomas is the author of the third and fourth chapters, “The Integration We Seek” and “Towards a Language of Integration.”

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