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Fazlur Rahman and the Search for Authenticity Islamic Education-Farid Panjwani

Fazlur Rahman and the Search for Authenticity Islamic Education-Farid Panjwani

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Published by Khairun Fajri Arief

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Published by: Khairun Fajri Arief on Aug 29, 2012
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Fazlur Rahman and the Search for Authentic Islamic Education: A Critical Appreciation
curi_574 33..55
Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, Aga Khan University London, United Kingdom 
The article provides a critical appreciation of the educational thought of FazlurRahman, a major figure in the 20
-century Muslim modernist trend. By situating hislife and work in the history of Muslim reform, the article brings into relief distinc-tive elements of his intellectual project. Connections between Fazlur Rahman’sphilosophy of education and his proposal for the Qur’an’s reinterpretation areoutlined and assessed. In this context, his ideas about the location of meaning, roleof tradition, and causes of Muslim decline which underpin his “double movement”theory are investigated. The article notes the wide-ranging impact of FazlurRahman’s interpretive approach on educational and reformist thought in many Muslim contexts. Finally, Fazlur Rahman’s theory and its underlying assumptionsare assessed, bringing out in particular the tension between his scholarly andreformist aims.
History says, Don’t hope on this side of the grave.But then, once in a lifetime the longed for tidal wave of justice can rise up,and hope and history rhyme.
---Seamus Heaney (1990, p. 77)
The word
, reform, has been reverberating throughout the last 200 years of Muslim history, carrying with it memory and belief. Memory that,for centuries in the past, hope and history rhymed when Muslims led the world, belief that if only Muslims could get 
right—that is, interpret theQur’an correctly, follow the true Islam, apply the spirit of Islam, work out the normative Islam—hope and history would rhyme again. Those calledconservatives or revivalists or traditionalists and those called modernists orprogressives all share this memory and belief. Among the modernists,Professor Fazlur Rahman of Karachi and Chicago, as Kenneth Cragg
© 2012 by The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of TorontoCurriculum Inquiry 42:1 (2012)Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington Road,Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK doi: 10.1111/j.1467-873X.2011.00574.x
(1985) memorably calls him, is amongst the most influential reformer-scholars in the second half of the 20th century. The conjoining of reformerand scholar was both a major strength and a significant weakness, as will bediscussed in this article.
Fazlur Rahman was an educationist not in the sense of being con-cerned with policies and pedagogies, but in the sense of being in searchof the theoretical bedrock of “Islamic education,” a form of education which he believed was necessary if Muslims were to successfully integratethe essence of their faith with modern practices and institutions. He didnot start his academic career in the field of education, but with thepassage of time the question of “the sequence of belief within the sequelof generations” (Cragg, 1985, p. 92) attracted his increasing attention. Inseveral of his articles and in at least one of his major books, education isa central theme.This article aims to provide a critical appreciation of Fazlur Rahman’seducational thought situated within his overall modernist (or neo-modernist, as he called himself) reform project. It discusses his life and work in five sections. These introductory comments are followed by abiographical note. The third section situates Fazlur Rahman’s work,including his concern with education in its historical, intellectual, andpolitical contexts. The fourth section provides a survey of his main ideasand their relationship with education. The final section discusses theimpact of his thoughts and personality on education and the study of Muslim cultures more generally. It also provides some critical comments.
Born on September 21, 1919, in British India, Fazlur Rahman belonged toa deeply religious family.
He received religious education at home underthe supervision of his father, who was a scholar in the Deobandi tradition(Masud, 1988).
 After completing school he went to the University of Punjab for higher studies, where he obtained a BA (Hons.) and then, in1942, an MA in Arabic.
In 1946, Fazlur Rahman proceeded to Oxford where he studied under Hamilton Gibb and Van den Bergh for his doctoral work on the treatise on psychology by 11
-century philosopher Ibn Sina(Latinized as Avicenna). Later, he published a book by the title
Avicenna’s Psychology 
, an annotated translation of the sixth chapter of Book II of IbnSina’s work
Kitab al-Najat 
(Book of Deliverance). After his studies, FazlurRahman taught at the University of Durham and then joined the Instituteof Islamic Studies at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.The study of philosophy appears to have nurtured a tension between theneed to question and what William James (1909) called “the Will tobelieve,” creating a phase of acute skepticism towards his traditional learn-ing and conventional beliefs (Rahman, 1985). His book
Prophecy in Islam: Philosophy and Orthodoxy 
(1958) lays out the various attitudes towards
prophecy—and implicitly towards Islam itself —with which Fazlur Rahman was struggling. From his later works, it would seem that eventually he felt “reborn” and sought to integrate the intellectual prowess of philosophy  with the faith-inspired dynamism of legal-theological tradition. His methodto integrate rational enquiry and religious conviction was a Qur’an-centredhermeneutics, a fresh and personal study of the scripture (Rahman, 1985).This task was to remain a fount of creativity for him and an inspiration formany of his students and followers.In 1961 Fazlur Rahman entered a major new phase in his life when he was invited by the then president of Pakistan, Ayub Khan, to help interpret “Islam in rational and scientific terms to meet the requirements of amodern progressive society” (Rahman, 1976, p. 285). From 1962 to 1968,he was the director of the Central Islamic Research Institute (CIRI) and amember of the Islamic Advisory Council (from 1964). He founded and, formany years, edited a journal called
Islamic Studies 
. As Director of CIRI, he was also responsible for the training of religious scholars. His book,
a long interpretive exposé of the key historical movements, central con-cepts, and cardinal values of Islam, was published during this period. Healso wrote many articles in English and Urdu, on Pakistan’s educationalsystem, social conditions and political direction (Rahman, 1964, 1965a,1965b). A series of articles concerning methodological issues in
(sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad) and law (Ali, 2009) was pub-lished in a book entitled,
Islamic Methodology in History 
(Rahman, 1965c).The issue of methodology would eventually become his distinctive contri-bution to the reformist discourse generally and to the debates about Islamiceducation in particular.Rahman’s efforts in Pakistan were aborted when his ideas landed him introuble with certain conservative groups who saw in him the state’s attempt to weaken and bypass their authority. The opposition he faced remains anunfortunate legacy in the history of modernist versus conservative debatesin Pakistan and in Muslim societies generally. Among the many issues on which conservatives opposed him were his support for the Muslim Family Law Ordinance; the advocacy of modern banking system as Islamically legitimate; his interpretation of 
(the Prophet’s ascent to heaven) asa symbolic/spiritual rather than a physical event; his historical-criticalapproach to
(plural of 
); his proposals for streamlining taxstructure in the spirit of 
(obligatory contribution for social welfare);and his views on the nature of revelation. The last of these was perhaps thestrongest source of controversy he faced, including being labelled as
munkir-i Qur’an 
(disbeliever in the Qur’an) (Ali, 2009; Berry, 1988;Rahman, 1976). On all of these matters, his stances were progressive andcourageous, until now matched only by very few reformers.
Faced with public agitation, threats to his life, and a dwindlingsupport from the government, Fazlur Rahman was forced to leave Pakistanand settle in the United States in 1968. After a brief association with the

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