The International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) has announced that Georgetown Professor presented the Annual Isma’il Faruqi Lecture at IIIT in late August in which he described the late Dr. Faruqi as “a good case of the modern intellectual who is a believer.” According to the IIIT announcement:
“Isma’il Faruqi is a good case of the modern intellectual who is a believer and provides a good example for thinking about what it means to be a ‘believing intellectual’ in the modern era,” said Georgetown University’s history professor John Voll who presented the Annual Isma’il Faruqi Lecture at IIIT on August 26 to an audience of over 80 scholars, activists and community leaders. Speaking on “The Challenge of the Believing Intellectual: Religion and Modernity,” Professor Voll, who is also associated with the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, reviewed how an understanding of what it means to be an intellectual has evolved over time. In the past, an intellectual could not be committed to anything, any faith or any cause; he would have to be above any commitment to be objective, or be secular in a sense. Times have changed and now it is possible to speak of being an intellectual and yet be committed to a faith or a cause, as Ismai’l Faruqi certainly was. That is why now we can speak of a believing intellectual, an intellectual who can examine issues from a unique perspective. Professor Voll opined that one of the most frequent conceptual mistakes made in discussing Islam and the West in the modern era was the identification of “the West” with “modernity.” This mistake has a significant impact on the way people view the processes of modernization in the Islamic world as well as on the way people interpret the relationships between Islam and the West in the contemporary era. Modernity is simply a phase of world history, a “set of processes that brought an end to the traditional lifestyles of medieval civilizations.” There can be and there are several “modernities”, each in a different cultural or civilizational environment, such as in Muslim societies. The techniques and infrastructure of change give modernity its unique character, according to Professor Voll. This understanding of modernity and modernization is the only way that we can maintain good relations between Islam and the modern West.
An earlier post discussed the international conference on Dr. Faruqi that was held by IIIT and organized jointly IIIT and the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminister, UK, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown, University, USA. The conference and Dr. Voll’s lecture are yet further evidence of the growing ties between IIIT, the Georgetown Center headed by long-time Muslim Brotherhood advocate John Esposito who received his PHD from Temple University under the supervision of Dr. Al-Faruqi and UK University centers such as Westminster. An earlier post had discussed another conference scheduled in Bosnia for September being sponsored by the same organizations along with the Center for the Study of Islamic and Democracy (CSID).
A Hudson Institute report explains that Al-Faruqi, a Temple University professor who had been an activist with the Muslim Student Association (MSA), played a pivotal role in the founding of IIIT and that that it was al-Faruqi who secured $25 million from the Saudi Islamic Development Bank in order to establish IIIT. Al-Faruqi is probably best known for his concept of the “Islamization of Knowledge” described as follows:
Al-Faruqi attempted to articulate an Islamic worldview by fortifying it with ration- al and scientific arguments. In the latter part of his career, he became more and more concerned with the spiritual aspects of Islam. He advocated a radical Islam- ization of new knowledge. He recognized that the crisis of the modern world was the crisis of knowledge. And this crisis, al-Faruqi thought, could only be cured via a new synthesis of all knowledge in an Islamic epistemological framework. The “Islamization of Knowledge” project sought to arouse Muslims to become active participants in intellectual life and contribute to it from an Islamic perspective.
According to the Hudson report, IIIIT was founded in the U.S. in 1980 by U.S. Muslim Brotherhood leaders including Jamal Barzinji and Hisham Altalib who wished to promote the Islamization of Knowledge as conceived by Al-Faruqi and who were also early leaders of ISNA. IIIT was associated with the now defunct SAAR Foundation, a network of Islamic organizations located in Northern Virginia that was raided by the Federal government in March 2002 in connection with the financing of terrorism and both organizations had been under investigation at that time by the U.S. Justice Department until at least mid 2007. The organization appeared to have withdrawn from public view following the 2002 raids but seems to be enjoying a renaissance of late. IIIT has a network of affiliates located in Europe, Africa, the MIddle East, and Asia. Although little is known about the activities of these IIIT affiliates, recent posts have discussed plans by IIIT to construct colleges in Bosnia and Lebanon.
According to his bio, John Obert Voll is professor of Islamic history and associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. He taught Middle Eastern, Islamic, and world history at the University of New Hampshire for thirty years before moving to Georgetown in 1995. He graduated from Dartmouth College and received his Ph.D. degree from Harvard University. He has lived in Cairo, Beirut, and Sudan and has traveled widely in the Muslim world. He also is known to have long-standing associations with the Global Muslim Brotherhood and previous posts have discussed his participation at a UK seminar that feature many Global Muslim Brotherhood leaders and his inclusion in a directory of experts on Islam prepared by the US Muslim Brotherhood.