Current Affairs Forum successfully organized its first event on the 18th of March, 2016 in memory of two great scholars of the movement for Islah and Tajdid in the 20th century, Hassan Al-Turabi and Taha Jabir Al-Alwani, who recently passed away on March 5 and March 4 respectively, leaving behind a rich legacy in their wake.
Speaking in front of a packed audience, Prof. Dr. Ibrahim Zein, Dean of the Kulliyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences (IRKHS), and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mohamed El-Tahir El-Mesawi, a lecturer from the same faculty, shared their personal memories of these two great scholars, and elaborated upon their contributions to Islamic thought. The session was chaired by Prof. Dr. Abdullah Al-Ahsan. Among distinguished attendees were current serving senator Dr. Muhammad Nor Manyuti, also former dean of IRKHS, along with respected faculties from various departments of IIUM.
The floor was opened by chair of the forum, Dr. Abdullah Al-Ahsan, who introduced the topic to the audience. While discussing the background of the forum and its objectives, he iterated the importance of the revival of the forum, drawing upon a legacy of vibrant discussion and intellectual discourse present at the time the forum was initiated in early 1990’s. After that, he introduced the speakers and invited Dr. Tahir to speak first.
Dr. Tahir, in a vibrant reminiscence, stressed upon the lasting contributions of the two scholars for the revival of the Muslim thought. Pausing for a moment to recite a prayer for the departed souls, Dr. Tahir then proceeded to expound on his personal experiences while meeting Turabi, whom he first met while the former was in Sudan in 1982, whilst Turabi served as Attorney-General of the country. Stating that Turabi was like Imam Ghazali, based on his observation that Hassan Turabi had been able to master both academic and spiritual dimensions, Dr. Tahir explained how Turabi started his academic and writing career as a Ghazalian. In illustrating the many works of Turabi to the audience, Dr. Tahir stated that Turabi, had in his observation, written on the fundamental issues pertaining to Islamic epistemology based upon the framework of tawhid before Ismail Raji al-Faruqi, and was thus one of the pioneers in promoting tawhid as the framework of the concept of islamisation. This, Dr. Tahir explained, was significant, considering the fact that most of Turabi’s books were written while he was imprisoned due to his political role and activism.
On Taha Jabir, Dr. Tahir noted that the scholar, despite being a graduate from some of the leading Islamic institutions of his day, such as in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, was unlike many of the Islamic scholars of his generation in that he was able to rise above the confines of traditionalist mentality in order to address and face the challenges of modernity. Dr. Tahir lauded the contributions of Taha Jabir in the formulation and development of contemporary Islamic thought, especially in the field of islamisation.
The next speaker, Dr. Ibrahim Zein, drew upon the ongoing line of discussion, bringing in much food for thought and knowledge about the invaluable contributions of the two deceased scholars to the audience. His recollections, rich in detail, underscored the importance of gaining knowledge and understanding of the contributions of the two scholars by the present generation. In highlighting his personal experiences with Turabi, Dr. Ibrahim illustrated how Turabi has been generally misrepresented by many as simply a political figure in the political landscape of Sudan. In this respect, he highlighted how the transformative and adaptive capacity of Turabi as a qualified scholar who at the same time could be a cunning and versatile politician has been largely ignored by many, and even distorted by his opponents. In terms of Islamic political thought development, he mentioned that Turabi’s collection of articles in Arabic was his magnum opus. Moreover, Turabi, in his writings and practice, explored and adopted the paradigm of tawhid in applied socio-political and daily life situations, a concept with much more relevance and impact than the tawhidic paradigm of the mutasawwifun and the mutakallimun.
Speaking about Taha Jaber, Dr. Ibrahim lapsed into a plethora of personal acquaintances with the late scholar, both in the United States, where the late scholar had served in various leadership and scholarly capacities in the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), and in Malaysia in IIUM, where he was a lecturer in IIUM. In this regard, Dr. Ibrahim stressed upon the element of critical thinking and thought development in his work over the years, which made his work all the more relevant in the contemporary world.
The vibrant discussion was followed by an equally interactive question and answer session from part of the audience, focusing on the the life and contributions of the two scholars, especially their contributions to contemporary Islamic thought development. At the end of the lively participation, the session was adjourned by the chair Dr. Ahsan, who expressed hope that future forum events would generate similar interest and support from all concerned parties, especially the university students and faculty.