Seminar on “Muslim Minorities in Europe”

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Current Affairs Forum KIRKHS held a seminar talk on Wednesday, 1 March, 2017. The topic of the talk was “Muslim Minorities in Europe”. The speakers were Prof. Dietrich Jung of University of Southern Denmark, and Dr. Elmira Akhmetova of IIUM. The talk was held at HS Seminar Room, HS building, IIUM.

It was attended by students and faculty from various departments and fields. Dr. Dietrich talked of the issues facing Muslim minorities in Western Europe, namely Germany, the Scandinavian region, France and the UK, while Dr. Elmira spoke about the issues facing the Muslim minorities in Eastern part of Europe, namely the Balkans and in Russia.

The discussion was followed by a lengthy and lively Q&A session during which the speakers addressed the questions of the audience.

Current Affairs Forum February event on Rohingya Muslims

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Current Affairs Forum, KIRKHS, held its February event focusing on the Rohingya entitled, “Ethnic cleansing and Genocide of Rohingya Muslims: A cry for global conscience and humanity”.

The speakers included Dr. Moniruzzaman from Dept. of Political Science IIUM, Abdul Ghani Bin Abdul Rahman from Rohingya Society Malaysia (RSM), and Prof. Abdullah Al Ahsan from  Dept. of History and Civilisation, IIUM.

Dr. Moniruzzaman spoke on the role of nationalism and nation-building in the drive against the Rohingya and discussed various methodologies and ways to deal with the crisis of the Rohingya through an approach that would lead to the empowerment of the Rohingya and give them a voice in the decision making process. Abdul Ghani focused on the humanitarian aspects of the Rohingya crisis and spoke on the need for speaking up for the Rohingya and giving them a voice. Dr. Ahsan wrapped up the discussion, discussing the role of the OIC and the Muslim nations in the Rohingya issue, especially the role of Bangladesh, Malaysia and Myanmar in the current predicament of this oppressed stateless Muslim minority.
The program was held at the HS Seminar Room, HSbuilding, IIUM on Tuesday, 7 February 2017 from 5 – 7 pm. It was attended by students and faculty of the university, who participated in a Q&A session with the speakers.

Current Affairs Forum talk “Islamic movements and current developments in Turkey”

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On the 16th of January, 2017, Current Affairs Forum KIRKHS organised a seminar entitled “Islamic movements and current developments in Turkey” at Al Tabari Conference Room, IIUM.

The distinguished speaker was Prof. Dr. Serdar Demirel, Faculty of Islamic Studies / Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakıf Universitiy – Istanbul, and Director, Centre for Ottoman-Malay Word Studies.

The distinguished speaker gave detailed analyses on the current situation in Turkey, especially in light of the recent coup attempt that had aimed to threaten and remove its functioning democracy. It was attended by students, guests and distinguished faculty.

Link to talk

Current Affairs event “Kashmir: Breaking the Silence”

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Current Affairs forum KIRKHS, held a program on Kashmir entitled “Kashmir: Breaking The Silence”, on Friday, October 14, 2016, from 3 pm-5pm, at ADM LT3, IIUM.

The speakers at the event were from varied backgrounds with expertise on the issue and bitter personal experiences to share with the audience. The speakers included Prof. Abdullah al-Ahsan, Dept. of History and Civilization, IIUM, Junaid Ahmed, an expert on the region from the organisation JUST, and M Kaiser and Muhammad Kashmiri, students who shared their personal experiences and their memories in Kashmir.

The program began with detailed, interactive and very lively presentations by the two students about the latest chronology of events of the crisis faced by Muslims in Kashmir, including eyewitness accounts, facts, statistics and the challenges to the covering of the issue in media and popular narrative.

Prof. Ahsan outlined the history of the unrest in Kashmir, focusing on the historic roots of the various conflicts surrounding the region, mainly between India and Pakistan, and the problem of the lack of self representation or self determination of the people of Kashmir. He also explained the various contexts of the current crisis in the region and outlined ways towards the future resolution. The final speaker, Junaid Ahmad of JUST, wrapped up the discussion by explaining the issue in regional context and in the context of the wider international global sphere.

The program was attended by students and faculty from various departments and nationalities, followed by a lively Q&A session. It was moderated by Dr. Khairil Izamin on behalf of the Current Affairs Forum.

Current Affairs Forum Seminar on “Understanding contemporary Islamic Movements”

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A seminar entitled “Understanding Contemporary Islamic Movements” was organized under the aegis of Current Affairs Forum on Thursday, August 25, 2016 at Al-Tabari Conference Room in International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). The speaker was Dr. Malik Badri, renowned academic and holder of the Ibn Khaldun Chair, IIUM. The seminar was moderated by Dr. Elmira Akhmetova on behalf of the forum. It was attended by faculty, staff and students of the university. Distinguished guests among the attendees included Dr. Rahmah Ahmad Hj. Osman, Dean of KIRKHS, Dr. Kamal Hassan and Dr. Abdullah al-Ahsan among others.

The moderator, after a brief introduction for the benefit of the audience, invited the speaker to share his thoughts and ideas on the subject matter. Dr. Badri, after thanking the moderator, began in earnest through identifying a common trait of importance in all movements, that of the quality of charismatic leadership. The quality of charismatic leadership is of importance in all types of movements within Islam as well, whether they are good or bad. To give examples of bad movements within the context of the Islamic tradition, he brought forth examples of the munafiqeen (the fathers of bad Islamic movements), Abdullah bin Khuwaisera (father of the khawarij), Nafi’ Bin Azraq (another charismatic khariji leader of the deviant sect called Azariqa) and Omar ibn Tofail (a challenger to Prophethood during the lifetime of Prophet Mohammad (SAW); miraculously killed by lightning strike) among others. Dr. Badri observed that this charismatic quality was an essential trait in the characters of the prophets as well.

Over the course of the next section of his speech, Dr. Badri went on to share his observations and memories of some of the figures of the Islamic movements whom he had met at various points in his life. Both Sennousi and the Mahdi of Sudan were highly charismatic figures who were able to successfully lead the Islamic movements within their countries. This was also true for the character of Hasanul Banna, the charismatic founder and prominent leader of the Brotherhood in the Arab world, and Maulana Abul ‘Ala Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami in the Indian subcontinent. The early assassination of Hasanul Banna left a crisis of leadership within the Muslim Brotherhood due to a lack of charismatic leadership which could replace his role. On the other hand, the selfless contribution of Maududi, including his simple life, prolific writing and untiring leadership made Jamaat into a strong movement in the subcontinent. However, Dr. Badri feels that the Jamaat, due to its stance against Sufism, fell back on the issue of spirituality, a move that alienated scholars such as Abul Hasan Al-Nadwi, who disagreed with Maududi on various aspects of the movement and eventually disassociated himself from it.

Speaking on his personal experiences, Dr. Badri expounded on his own participation within the Islamic movement, namely as a central figure in the Islamic movement in Sudan, until the coup d’état in 1969 by Numeiri. His differences with the viewpoints of Hasan Turabi and an accumulation of observations over time eventually led to his withdrawal from Islamist politics and more into academia. Finally, he spoke of his personal experiences with Malcolm X, a deeply charismatic black US Muslim preacher who eventually came to accept true Islam due to his connections with scholarly individuals and personal study on Islam. In this regard, Dr. Badri reminisced about a deeply moving speech given by Malcolm X at the Sudan Cultural Attaché premises at Beirut after the latter’s embrace of true Islamic faith in place of the deviant beliefs of Elijah Mohamed’s Nation of Islam.

Lastly, he spoke of the negative implications of Islamic movements in the context of present Muslim societies, through which he also outlined the reasons behind his eventual abandonment of Islamic movements. The very concept of the Islamic movement, according to Dr. Badri, is a bid’ah or an innovation within Islamic tradition. Within the context of present Islamic societies, apart from being a force for seeking a public role for Islam in the affairs of the society, the Islamic movements had several negative impacts. Firstly, in terms the moral impact on the society, such movements tend to identify and react to modern societal ills in a manner that forces them to veneer to the other end of the spectrum through strict moral policing and conditioning, instead of adopting a balanced approach. Secondly, the very nature of a grouping based on the concept of a common brotherhood brings about the in-group and out-group mentality within members of such a movement. According to Dr. Badri, this mentality, although absent or minimal at the beginning, gradually solidifies over time and even leads to a takfiri attitude, whereby others are seen as lesser beings. Moreover, he felt that Islamists were rather prone to violence, despite propagating a peaceful approach, due to the fact that their literature tends to condone fiery spirit and illiberal views of others, which he felt was very much prevalent in the writings of Maududi. Dr. Badri further iterated that the model upon which the Islamic movements operated, the unit or usra, was a concept adapted from the Communists or Marxists. He finally wrapped up his discussion with the conclusion that there was a need to understand that leadership within Islamic movements had its strengths and also its weaknesses, and thus evaluate them accordingly, citing examples such as Hassan Turabi of Sudan in this regard.

The moderator, after thanking Dr. Badri for sharing his experiences on understanding Islamic contemporary movements, opened the floor for the Q&A session. In the session that followed, a lively discussion ensued as Dr. Kamal Hassan shared his views on whether there was a need to redefine the very concept of the ‘political party’, which he believed was a Western construct which brought with it the assorted ills associated with such a concept, such as the view that the party was a sacred animal for which all members were ultimately expected to sacrifice alternate thinking or differences in opinion at any cost. There were also comments from Dr. Abdullah al-Ahsan and questions from the audience regarding the nature of contemporary Islamic movements and alternate solutions to their drawbacks. The session was concluded by the respected moderator, who thanked all participants for their engagement and time to make the discussion lively and fruitful.

Legacy of Al Faruqis: 30 Years On

A forum was held on Friday 27 May 2016 titled “Legacy of Al Faruqis: 30 Years on” at the International Islamic University Malaysia. The event, organized by the Current Affairs Forum to commemorate the life and legacy of the great scholar Ismail Raji Al-Faruqi and his wife Lamya Lois Al-Faruqi on the 30th anniversary of their assassination on 27 May 1986. The forum brought together a lively audience of scholars and students. The forum was moderated by Professor Tan Sri Kamal Hassan, IIUM’s former Rector. The panel speakers, Professors Ibrahim Zein and Abdul Rashid Moten, passionately shared their experience with and thoughts regarding the late Ismail Faruqi, drawing from their personal acquaintances with him.

The forum was kick started by Prof. Kamal, who introduced the audience to Ismail Faruqi and his work. In addition to his pioneering role in the establishment of the Institute of International Islamic Thought (IIIT) in the USA and his social and political, it was shown to the audience thatFaruqi was not an armchair scholar, but a scholar who engaged in intellectual jihad. Prof Kamal then invited Prof. Zein to share his thoughts on Faruqi.

Prof.  Zein, in a highly personal yet critical reflection of Faruqi’s academic and intellectual legacy, highlighted several important aspects of the late scholar’s work. Zein focused on a number of Faruqi’s known works,  such as Cultural Atlas of Islam, Tawhid: Implications in Thought and Life and Christian Ethics: A Systematic and Historical Analysis of Its Dominant Ideas. According to Zein, apart from his contributions towards the project of Islamization, Faruqi contributed towards developing the concepts of ‘meta-religion’ and ‘Islamic humanism’.  Zein then embarked upon a detailed discussion on those concepts and and Faruqi’s lasting contribution through them. In this regard, he also warned of  attempts which had been made to distort the meaning of such concepts which Faruqi had earnestly developed during his later years (Zein identified the period during which they were developed as the period of the ‘final Faruqi’) to serve our present-day agenda. Further, members of the audience were told that in person, Faruqi was warm, loving and dedicated towards his students. The Islamization project was his crowning achievement, and through his intellectual work, scholarly dedication and organizational aptitude, he channeled his energies into the project through his engagement with various initiatives such as the Islamic universities and the IIIT.

The moderator thanked Prof. Zein for his presentation, and agreed with the speaker’s view of the importance of formulating the image of the final Faruqi. The moderator then introduced the next speaker, Prof. Moten, a renowned political scientist and senior academic fellow at IIUM’s Centre for Islamisation (CENTRIS), and invited him to speak.

Moten’s first meeting with Faruqi was in 1983, while he was teaching at Bayero University in Nigeria. At that time, Faruqi came to the university to deliver a seminar lecture on research methodology from an Islamic perspective. After the lecture, they met, and a friendship was forged through mututal intellectual interest. Meeting Faruqi left a lasting impact on Moten. He reminisced that Faruqi had said to him that the erstwhile socio-economic system in the Muslim world was rotten and lacked the appropriate values. The dualistic modern education system, which is divided into the secular and religious, had produced graduates who were at odds with one other. They needed to be brought together. The education crisis in the Muslim world translated into a Muslim intellectual crisis, which Faruqi believed could only be remedied by the process of Islamization. Fast forward to the present, Moten made a critical evaluation of Islamization as understood in the present context. He iterated that Islamization was never meant to be an individual effort, but an institutional one, more so if one were to take into account the twelve-step work plan as formulated by Faruqi and the IIIT towards Islamization of education. In the course of his reflections, Moten praised Faruqi for taking the initiative to initiate correspondence with the former Prime Minister of Malaysia Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, which served as a basis towards the establishment of the IIUM.

After thanking the speaker on his thoughtful presentation, Kamal summarized the words of the two speakers and offered his own thoughts on Faruqi and his legacy. He brought into the discussion the eulogy written on Faruqi by one of his well-known students, John Esposito. He appreciated the finer points in the eulogy, such as the fact that Faruqi was not only at ease with multiple languages, but was also adept at looking into both Western philosophy and Islamic philosophy. Kamal also mentioned a lesser known fact about Faruqi’s appreciation and knowledge of classical music. Kamal then mentioned of his possession of the handwritten letter which Faruqi sent to Mahatir. He also mentioned that Faruqi, in light of his appreciation and awareness of his Palestinian roots, was conscious of his reality as a migrant (muhajir) on the face of this world, lived  as an ‘alim and passed away as a martyr (Shaheed). In light of his immense contributions, Kamal reiterated the importance of knowing the definitive Faruqi. Islamization was the legacy of Faruqi, and the IIIT, which he helped set up and establish, was part of his vision and concept of Ummatism.

Prof. Kamal then opened the floor for questions from the audience. Responding to the first question on the contributions of Lamya Faruqi, the wife of Ismail, Zein praised her contributions as an academic at Temple University, that of a specialist in ethnomusicology, and as a successful homemaker and intellectual shadow of Ismail at the same time. In addition, Zein noted that Ismail Faruqi was a great cook and used to invite his students to his house and cook for them. He also specialized talented interior designer, a skill he used to earn money in his earlier years, which helped fund his PhD studies. As an academic and faculty at Temple University, he was a vocal activist for the Palestinian cause and encouraged his students to engage in community activities. In the 1980s, out of 50 who studied in Master and PhD programmes in Islamic studies at Temple, 35 students, who hailed from different parts of the world, were studying under Faruqi.

The discussion also involved other distinguished guests present at the forum. Responding to a question on the influence of Faruqi’s works in the Arab world, Dr. Tahir el Mesawi, a faculty of KIRKHS, responded by affirming that Faruqi was well read and understood in the Arab world due to his initiative in writing in various Arab journals and other publications. However, many of the works are currently not accessible due to the lack of compilation and also translation. El Mesawi followed this up with a reflection of his own experience and memories of the late Faruqi.

After the extensive Q & A session, Prof. Kamal brought the programme to an end. He concluded the seminar with the summation of the various points that were raised in the course of the discussions, and closed the forum with a prayer to the Almighty for the soul of the deceased Faruqis and the well-being of the Muslim Ummah.

Current Affairs Forum holds event on “Daesh and 34 Nation State Alliance”

The Current Affairs Forum conducted an event titled “Daesh and The 34 Nation Alliance” on Friday, 22 April 2016, at the International Islamic University Malaysia It featured one of the most well-known Malaysian experts on the subject, human rights activist and President of International Movement for a Just World (JUST), Chandra Muzaffar. In the panel was Maszlee Malik, a faculty member in the Department of Fiqh and Usul Fiqh, IIUM and an acclaimed expert on the subject of terrorism. The forum was moderated by Khairil Izamin Ahmad, who introduced the topic and the speakers, and presided over a lively Q&A session that ensued afterwards.

The first speaker, Chandra Muzaffar, began his speech by painting a dark picture of events unfolding in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. According to him, the rise of Daesh, an extremist militant organization espousing violent ideals in the name of Islam, is seen to be the greatest threat to human civilization today. Understandably, the world has not remained silent, and several political and military efforts  have been put together to fight the Daesh, which presently controls significant areas in Syria, Iraq and Libya, imposing a harsh interpretation of the Shari’a law within these areas.  In addition to military coalitions led by the United States and Russia, a coalition of 34 Muslim nations was established by Saudi Arabia (Chandra Muzaffar pointed out that the number of coalition members has reached 39). He pointed out, however, that the use of military force hasn’t managed to eliminate Daesh, and asked why this was still the case. Contemplating on the issue, Chandra believed that the main reason behind this was hypocrisy on the part of those nations fighting Daesh, among other reasons.

 To substantiate this argument, Chandra began by listing a few individual member nations and their track records their handling of issues related to terrorism. Beginning with Saudi Arabia, he mentioned that although the kingdom is playing a leading role in the 39 nation coalition, it itself has a record of cultivating terror activities. For example, he reminded the audience that 15 of the 19 hijackers involved with the 9/11 attack were alleged to have been Saudi nationals. He also cited what he believes as an unwelcome regional war led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen recently. Similarly, Chandra pointed out that Turkey had allowed terrorists to cross its borders, while Pakistan has had a long history of actively supporting extremist and terrorist elements in Afghanistan. He argued that such hypocrisy could also be seen inothers, including Central Asian Muslim countries, India, China, Russia and the US, alongside Israel, which he identified as being the greatest terrorist entity in the Middle East.  In effect, the reality was that all actors, whether big and small, had supported terrorism at one time or another.

In addition, Chandra stated that he disagrees with the prevalent narrative that the distortion of Islam was the real cause of terrorism. Citing a study by the well-known political scientist Robert Pape, he said that the root cause of terrorism was the occupation of other people’s lands. The rise of terrorism is also linked to the threat that communities see against their identity, which have often been caused by foreign occupation of their lands or authoritarian rule. Further, Chandra pointed out that terrorist acts such as suicide bombing is a relatively new phenomenon amongst so called Islamic extremists.  He cited a study by Robert Pape which shows that until 2003, the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), a socialist secessionist group in Sri Lanka, were world leaders in suicide bombing.

Speaking of plausible solutions, Chandra stressed upon the need to pursue peaceful means to meaningfully combat and end terrorism. Highlighting the importance of human rights and dignity, Chandra said that those in power need to be persuaded not to employ violence, while those with grievances and wanting change need to pursue legitimate and peaceful means towards that end. He proposed that governments could respect demands of self-determination through exploring options such as provision of autonomous rule, such as in Aceh in Indonesia. Overall, he spoke of the need of activism to combat extremism and distortion of facts for vested interests.

In ending his speech, Chandra reiterated that Daesh is being used as an excuse to malign Islam and Muslim societies, culminating in Islamophobia. He expressed his hope that the current alliance of Muslim states against Daesh and terrorism would not turn into a disguise leading towards infighting amongst Muslims themselves, specifically along the lines of the Shia-Sunni divide, considering the fact that all 39 countries of the coalition are Sunni (Iran, a major player in Middle Eastern politics, is not a member of the coalition). In this regard, Chandra also criticized the recently published OIC communique for being biased, which he identified as reflecting regional self-interests.

After a rousing applause from the audience, the moderator summarised Chandra’s speech and handed over the microphone to the next speaker, Maszlee Malik. Praising Chandrafor his erudite analysis, Maszlee began his speech by identifying the reasons behind the phenomenon of the rise of Daesh. In this regard, he particularly drew upon his extensive experience while interviewing detainees alleged to be Daesh sympathisers in the custody of the Malaysian police. One of the integral problems which he identified among the detainees was that there is a profound lack of happiness amongst them, fuelled by their view that worldly happiness was of a fleeting nature, and hence insignificant.  This perception is fuelled by the perceived persecution of the Muslims in different countries of the world, and the fact that the Muslim countries and rulers seemed to have done nothing to change the situation.

Speaking of the religious basis claims of such extremist movements, Maszlee pointed out that such movements feed on the insecurities and grievances of Muslims, but are firmly rooted in a negative tradition of takfir, or the practice of excommunication of other Muslims. For example, he stated that the practice was started by Ayman Al Zawahiri of Al Qaeda, when he blamed and carried out takfir on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, instead of the secular autocratic ruler Gamal Nasser. Further, Maszlee pointed out that democratic practices are being undermined in the Muslim world, and as long as injustice and corruption prevail, the military solution to tackle extremist organisations such as Daesh will not prevent such phenomena from recurring in the future. He pointed out that some blame the rise of Wahhabism for the rise of Daesh, which he thought was not correct. He believed that the main problem is the education system within Muslim societies, which he believes is making people much more materialistic and uncaring for the world around them, thus failing to develop them into respectful human beings. He reiterated that the problem is also prevalent in the present day religious establishments and scholars, who have forgotten their true role in educating people in basic etiquette, love and respect for fellow human beings.

After the end of the session, the floor was opened for questions and comments from the audience by the moderator. A number of valuable comments and searching questions were put forward to the panellists, namely the worrying nature of the growing Shia-Sunni divide in the Muslim world, the role of the OIC and its member states, the spread of fundamentalism in Muslim societies, and the role of human rights in the current world. The discussion was enriched by the comments of Abdullah Al Ahsan, the Chairperson of Current Affairs Forum, who shared his views and expertise on the discussion at hand. The moderator closed the forum discussion with comments thanking the panellists, the faculty and the students who had attended the event, and invited all to attend the upcoming event of the forum on 27 May 2016 in memory of the assassination of the Faruqis, to explore their legacy and impact.