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January 29 Seminar: Muhammad Sani Umar

Islamic Currents of Globalization: The Evidence from Educational and Intellectual Arenas

Leah Halvorson Email LeahHalvorson

My research interests broadly focus on modernization of Islamic thought as manifested in contemporary reinterpretations of Islamic classics, which means I am also interested theoretically in modernization of religious thought. Similarly, I am interested in the debates on globalization since Islam (as one of the major world religions) has been globalizing itself for more than a millenium. However, when I am not dabbling into things I know pretty little about, I tend to preoccupy myself with the subtleties of Islamic religious concepts, particularly those bordering on doctrinal imponderables, namely: things forbidden doctrinally but unavoidable practically. Hence, my current project addresses the question: When Osama ben Laden & Co quote Qur’an to intellectually justify their catastrophic politics of total violence, what rebuttals are available to Muslims who do not agree with that kind of politics? Rather than the off-hand dismissal proposed by one Muslim scholar (, I am interested in a more intellectually engaged response; hence I search for possible intellectual warrants for peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims in Islamic classics, particularly exegetical counter-arguments against those verses of the Qur’an that the likes of Osama ben Laden love to quote.


But in order to interest participants in the Global Fellows seminar who have no background in Islamic theology and scripture, I plan to ground my presentation on a concrete issue, namely: madrasa, a term that has become part of English lexicon in the aftermath of 9/11. A keyword search on the Internet using Windows Explorer returns more than 8000 hits on madrasa. Among the interesting hits are:



1)      a definition of madrasa as “a school, usually theological, for orthodox Sunni [Islam]” (;

2)      madrasa website for selling software programs and CDs for learning about Islam, including “The Miracle of Revelation - A 4 CD set by Shaykh Husain Abdul Sattar that covers important aspects of the greatest gift to mankind - the revelation (wahy) [i.e. Islamic revelation] (;

3)      madrasa as “university of holy war,” in a BBC report on “the religious seminary of Darul Uloom Haqqania in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province.” ( Published: 2003/10/02 07:39:58 GMT);

4)      madrasa as a subject of government policy in India according to a report by Times of India Online: “As allegations of madrasas being breeding ground for terrorism haunt the country, Delhi government is planning to set up a board to run these religious institutions and impart formal education” Delhi Govt May Set up Madrasa Board (PTI) SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2002 02:19:21 PM ];

5)      A website listing Islamic School Addresses in North America ( provides the names and addresses of 28 madrasas in California (;

6)      A report on madrasa prepared by Congressional Research Service ( and another report prepared by USAID ( point to US official policy concerns with madrasa.



These brief samples of the uses of the term madrasa demonstrate clearly that madrasa has become a site of contemporary discourses on Islam, and a pointer to what I would like to call “Islamic Currents of Globalization.” I hope that my essay on “Profiles of New Islamic Schools in Nigeria” will give us a concrete starting point for our discussion. But in his insightful essay on “Crisis within Islam” (, Richard Bulliet identifies the problem I am grappling in my current research, namely: the limitations in the discourses of liberal Islam. If you cannot read all these materials, then Bulliet’s essay is the one piece that you must read before we meet to continue the discussion on madrasa, Islam, globalization, etc.

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