Mapping ‘Islamic Studies’ Discipline: Evolution, Advancement & Approaches

Reading Two Recent Works published from Hyderabad and Kashmir

By Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray


Title: Islamic Studies: Concept, Present Scenario and Future

Editor: Prof. Mohd. Fahim Akhtar

Publication Details: Hyderabad: Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), August 2022; Pages: 184; ISBN: 978-93-95203-58-6; Paperback; Price: 225/-


Title: Islamic Studies in Academia: Evolution, Approaches and Prospects

Author: Dr. Ashraf Amin

Publication Details: Kulgam, Kashmir: Wular Publishing House (WPH), January, 2023; Pages: xii+146; ISBN: 978-93-90666-28-7; Paperback; Price: 350/-

~ “Two recent works from MANUU and Kashmir narrate and describe the history of Islamic studies subject at GLocal level, concise but comprehensively”~

Back in 1990, Prof. Syed Maqbool Ahmad (in an Urdu quarterly, ‘Islam aur Asr-e Jadid’, 22, 1: 5-18, pp. 6, 16) wrote: “Islamic Studies, as a subject dealing with the study of Islamic history, culture and civilization, is not a new discipline”; “its name is new”, but the not the subject itself and the contents it covers, because “the discipline is as old as Orientalism itself.” Orientalism, literally the study of the Orient/ East, is here taken specifically to mean the study of Islam and Muslims. This is the general conception of the discipline, which has passed through different stages/ phases before it got this specific name, as become evident from many works, including Mapping Islamic Studies: Genealogy, Continuity and Change (Azim Nanji, 1997), Approaches to Islam in Religious Studies (Richard Martin, 2001) and Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies (Clinton Bennett, 2013), to name a few: Orientalism, Theology, Religious Studies, Areas Studies and Islamic Studies. The concept of Islamic Studies as a social science discipline “has a long journey in contemporary world, having different meanings and perspectives in Arab world and in Western world”.

The history of Islamic Studies, both in the West and East, is centuries old. In the West, it has passed through different stages/ phases (beginning with Orientalism). In the East, including the Indian context, its history dates back, to speak from the academic/ teaching point of view, to the early decades of 20th century. Similarly, in J&K it was introduced from late 1980s.

It will not be unfair to add here that the history of subject is both ‘extensive and complex’. It has passed through different stages, and has transformed, especially in the past few decades, tremendously. Keeping in view the significance of the subject, its long history both in Western as well as in Eastern/ Arab world and considering the fact that it is subject of utmost importance in India too, so there have been many attempts to narrate and recount its journey. Though most of these attempts have been made by the Western scholars (like Nanji, Martin, Bennett and others) with a more focus on the evolution and development of this subject within the western perspective, there are few attempts by the Muslims of India too to recount the journey of this discipline, at global level in general and in the Indian context in particular. Two (2) such recent attempts are: Prof. Mohd. Fahim Akhtar’s Islamic Studies: Concept, Present Scenario and Future (published in August 2022) and Dr. Ashraf Amin’s Islamic Studies in Academia: Evolution, Approaches and Prospects (published in January 2023): Former is a compilation of the selected papers presented in a two day national seminar organized by ‘Department of Islamic Studies’ (DoIS), MANUU and Henry Martin Institute, Hyderabad (HMI) on April 24-25, 2019, while as later attempts to put Islamic Studies as a social science discipline] in the proper perspective by accounting and narrating its development in general and in Kashmir in particular, with the aim “at facilitating the understanding of Islamic Studies as a social science discipline and its current status in addition to its future prospects” (p.3).

The objective of the Seminar organized by DoIS, MANUU was “to elaborate and examine the achievements of Islamic Studies in recent past, and to chalk out the action plan for future.” In this seminar, a total of thirty-two (32) papers (both in Urdu and English) were presented by senior and young faculty members and researches of the subject—from Kashmir to Kolkata. Out of these, eighteen (18) papers have been compiled in Prof. Akhtar’s Islamic Studies: Concept, Present Scenario and Future, which are preceded by ‘Message’, ‘Preface’ and ‘Introductory Remarks’, respectively by the VC, Director of Translation and Publication Division, and HoD, DoIS, MANUU, and ends with Seminar Report (by Dr. M. Irfan Ahmad) and ‘Suggestions and Recommendations’ (by the senior and young paper presenters).

Compiled by Prof. Akhtar (Head, DoIS, MANUU), Islamic Studies: Concept, Present Scenario and Future consists of eighteen (18) chapters and are divided thematically under three (3) parts: Part-I, “Islamic Studies: Concept and History” (chapters 1-4); Part-II, “Institutions of Islamic Studies in India and their Contribution” (chapters 5-10); and Part-III, “Islamic Studies: Curriculum, Contemporary Relevance and Future (Prospects)” (chapters 11-18).

The main theme of the chapters 1 and 3 in part-I and chapters 11-15 in part-III is the discipline of Islamic Studies at the global and national level, its genesis and development in East and West, transitions and transformations of the subject rom early stages to the current times as well as contemporary relevance, challenges, and future prospects of this discipline. Few chapters threw light on the journey of the subject from ‘Orientalism to Islamic Studies (chapter 3), contemporary issues/ trends in research to be explored in Islamic studies (chapter 12) and Chapters 2, 4 (in part-I), 5-10 (pat-II) and 16-18 (part-III) discuss the teaching and research, curriculum and contribution of various departments/ institutes of Islamic Studies, spread throughout India (like Jamia Milia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University, Aliah University, MANUU, Osmania University, Lucknow University), contribution of Zakir Hussain Institute of Islamic Studies (JMI) and Islamic Studies through the Distance Education at MANUU as well as a general survey of the development of the subject in India, since 1920. Many chapters also provide comparative analysis and evaluation of the curriculum taught at various universities (chapter 17) as well as content analysis of selected courses like ‘Islam in India’ (chapter 16).

All in all, Islamic Studies: Concept, Present Scenario and Future is a valuable and significant contribution which will prove helpful to the students and researchers of Islamic studies not only to know genesis and genealogy of the subject at global level and in Indian context but also to know about the curriculum, teaching and research in this subject, while not overlooking its challenges and future prospects.

Dr. Ashraf Amin’s Islamic Studies in Academia (published in January 2023 by a local publishing house) attempts to account and narrate the history of Islamic Studies, as a social science discipline, in general and in Kashmir in particular and tries to put it in the proper perspective y referring to the genesis and genealogy of this subject from Western and Islamic perspective by looking at its present scenario and taking into consideration the future prospects as well (pp. xii, 3). In the Introduction (pp.1-4), the author (presently working as an Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Central University of Kashmir) presents the overall objective and purpose of this work in these words: the book attempts “to acquaint the readers to the discourse on Islam and Islamic Studies in the Western and Muslim scholarly circles. The work is not an exhaustive account of the historical journey of Islamic studies in Muslim and Western scholarship but … [it does] not fail in offering a healthy overview of Islamic studies as an academic discipline in Western and Muslim academia till date.” (p. 3)

Divided into eight (8) chapters (excusing Introduction and Conclusion), preceded by Acknowledgements, Preface (pp. x-xii) and Introduction (pp. 1-4) and a Foreword (pp. vii-ix) by Prof. Sayyid Muhammad Yunus Gilani (presently at IIUM, Malaysia) and ends with Conclusion (pp. 97-101), Bibliography (pp. 105-110) and Appendix (pp. 111-146).

In his ‘Foreword’, Prof. Gilani (who is a pioneering figure in establishing Islamic Studies at Shah-i-Hamdan Institute of Islamic Studies (SHIIS), University of Kashmir in particular and in J&K in general, ‘Teacher of the Teachers’ in this field and has been aptly described by Dr Amin as “one of the unparalleled Islamic Studies scholars” [p. 113]) puts forth that “Islamic Studies is [an] all comprehensive and all-embracing discipline”, which “aims at overall personality building of an individual on Islamic lines” for it is “a life-long process of study and development” (p. vii). He appreciates the efforts of Dr. Amin in these words: “the author discusses the fallacies of the Western scholarship in understanding Islam and Muslims; he has considerably deliberated upon the genesis of Islamic Studies within Islamic framework” and thus calls this book as a helpful reference guide in “understanding and comprehension of Islamic Studies as an academic discipline” (p. ix).

In its eight (8) chapters, the book throws light, albeit briefly, on the genesis ad genealogy, evolution and growth, methods and approaches, challenges and prospects of this discipline by discussing its ‘Nature, Origin, Definitions’, ‘Western’ and ‘Islamic’ contexts, Traditional and Modernist Approaches, place and position of Islamic studies as a social science subject, followed by three chapters on its place in Modern-day Academia, in Malaysian Seminaries and its history and growth in J&K. The main points, arguments and historical facts vis-à-vis the concept and growth of Islamic studies as a multi/inter/trans-disciplinary social science subject are summarized below:

• The field of Islamic Studies, which is often taken for-granted (resulting in misunderstanding it), emerged as a formal social science discipline in the West at the dawn of the modern era, but a lot has changed since then (p. xi);

• The emergence of the modern academic study of Islam in the West was primarily associated with the Oriental Studies or Orientalism, which later on witnessed two major developments: ‘scientific study of the history of religion’ (or as a part of Religious Studies) and studying Islam/ Muslims as a social science subject under the ‘study of “other” cultures and peoples’, revealing that its boundaries were constantly being revised (pp. 8, 9);

• The study of Islam and Muslims in the Western academy has a long and perplexed history (p. 19);

• Western studies of Islam progressed from viewing it in the 12th century as a Christian heresy or a false religion to more systematic and disciplined approaches in the late 16th and 17th centuries (p. 24);

• The contemporary approach of Western scholarship towards Orient, especially the Muslim Orient, would be labelled as ‘New Orientalism’ that views Islam and Muslims in terms of ‘anti-modernity and anti-democracy’ (p. 32);

• In Islamic framework, Islamic Studies is a faith-based study of Islamic religious sciences intended to preserve Islam through approximate interpretations for posterity (p. 37);

• There are two major trends in studying Islam, viz., ‘imperial prejudices’ and ‘systematic view’; and since the second half of 20th century, later has become ‘general trend’ (p. 43);

• Pubic interest in Islam has increased dramatically in the first decade of 21st century, especially since the events of 9/11, which has powerfully affected the discipline of Islamic studies (pp. 74-75); and

• Inter-disciplinary and trans-regional centres for the study of Islam and Muslims in modern world have been identified as key locations for the development of new approaches to Islamic studies (p.76).

This is followed by a chapter on “Islamic Studies in Jammu and Kashmir” (pp. 92-96) in which the author narrates the history of Islamic Studies as “one of the prime subjects in humanities and social sciences” which has seen an “increasing interest” among the students for its “multi-disciplinary nature” (p. 92). It provides a brief profile of the departments of Islamic Studies in a chronological order with a focus on their academic achievements since their inception, viz., SHIIS, University of Kashmir (KU; 1988), DoIS, Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST; 2006), Department of Religious Studies (DoRS), Central University of Kashmir (CUK; 2017) and DoIS, Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, Rajouri (BGSBU; 2017). He describes these departments, respectively, as: SHIIS has “acted as pioneer in the progress and consolidation of Islamic studies in modern academia”; DoIS, IUST has “made a unique name in academics” by generating a “great atmosphere of learning and research”; DoRS, CUK is the “first of its type where religious understanding, religious literacy and Islamic sciences meet for a joint academic stride” and is “fine blend” of trans/inter/multi-disciplinary “approaches in religion and Islamic studies”; and DoIS, BGSBU, though youngest of all, has “outshined all other departments of Islamic studies in organizing seminars, workshops, conferences despite limited resources” (pp. 92, 93, 94, 95). However, one finds it surprising to note that the author has referred to the journal, Revelation (which is still in its infancy) published by DoRS, CUK but has ignored the SHIIS, KU’s annual journal Insight Islamicus—published since 2001 and indexed in London-based Index Islamicus. Also, surprising is the fact that in profiling these departments, he has focused on faculty members of SHIIS, KU while in others he has not mentioned the names of any faculty member and  even date of establishment of the department is not mentioned in each case.

These chapters, most of them being brief, are followed by ‘Conclusion’ in which he tries to summarize overall history of the subject from Western and Muslim perspectives and concludes that “Islamic studies, as taught in the west, is a discipline that seeks to explain what the Islamic [read as Muslim] world has achieved in the past and what the future holds for it” (p. 102).

In the Appendix (pp. 111-146), he has provided an academic profile of a dozen faculty members of Islamic studies who have worked and/or working in the universities of KU, IUST, CUK and BGSBU.

Though addressed, and written for the students and scholars of Islamic studies, the book has many shortcomings; some of them include: inconsistency in referencing style and in Bibliography; incomplete or no references for many quotations and statements (see e.g., pp. 8, 16, 41, 5-56, 59, 62, 67); indirect/ secondary references for easily available/ accessible books (see e.g., pp. 41, 50, 52); typo errors (pp. 97, 133); and no coverage or profiling of Islamic studies departments of India.

Keeping aside these shortcomings, Dr. Ashraf Amin’s Islamic Studies in Academia is a valuable reference guide for the students and scholars of Islamic studies which will prove helpful to them in understanding and comprehension of Islamic Studies as an academic discipline.

All in all, both these works by Prof. Akhtar and Dr. Amin make a substantial contribution to the literature (in Urdu and English) on narrating and describing the history of the discipline of Islamic studies as a social science subject at the local, national and global levels. Both will prove helpful in knowing and understanding the genesis, genealogy, growth, approaches, challenges and prospects of Islamic Studies as an academic discipline.

  • The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC Sogam (Lolab) Kupwara (J&K). Email: [email protected] 

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