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Decolonization of knowledge needs a broader, creative push: IPS Seminar

Islamabad, Apr 1 /DNA/ – Colonialism, total rejection of which is not possible, is an ongoing phenomenon in the form of dominance of colonial powers on our ideas, philosophies, and theories, whose effects are visible in our incapacity to devise, define, and understand questions even in Islamic studies.

The view was presented by Dr Humeira Iqtidar, reader in Politics, King’s College London, in her keynote speech during a hybrid seminar titled “Decolonizing Islamic Studies”, held at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad.

The seminar was chaired by Professor Dr Qibla Ayaz, chairman, Council of Islamic Ideology, and moderated by Dr Taimia Sabiha, assistant professor, Department of Comparative Religion, International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI). They were joined by Khalid Rahman, chairman, IPS, Professor Dr Fateh Muhammad Malik, former rector of IIUI, and Dr Humaira Ahmad, assistant professor, Department of Islamic Thought & Civilization, University of Management and Technology, Lahore, besides researchers and scholars who presented their observations.

While probing the prevalent theories, Dr Humeira Iqtidar maintained that many political theories and philosophies, which are based on limited historical experience and European quests, have been universalized. Even though the decolonizing movement originally started in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and other African states when they questioned the prevalent educational structure and curriculum as the legacy of colonialism, it is the European centricity that is pervasive in the context of understanding decolonialism across the globe. No one questions the universality of these philosophies as they are inculcated in society through knowledge and educational institutes.

This colonization of knowledge and industrial-scale education system stops us from asking questions like what is the purpose of producing and consuming knowledge? What knowledge is being produced and consumed? Who is producing knowledge? etc. Islamic studies has also been largely affected by this. The questions devised under Islamic studies were themselves deeply entrenched in colonial influence. These questions are developed in such a way that all the burden of violence falls on Muslims by making Islam appear violent and something that needs a compatibility check, while leaving no space for further questions. The educational institutes are also established in link with these colonialism-entrenched questions. It is an effect of that educational training and colonial legacy that we have no capacity to raise the right questions.

While presenting the critique of Maulana Sayyid Abul A‘la Mawdudi on nationalism that it is un-Islamic and a problem for democracy as it pushes humans towards racialism, Dr Humeira identified the limitations of the solution presented to this as colonial-inflicted. Building on this, she stated that decolonizing knowledge is a very difficult task as it doesn’t mean eliminating it. The total rejection of colonial influence is not possible as we live with such institutions based on this influence and ideas. As for the creation of a possible solution, the need of the time is to combine different approaches and ideas creatively and understand our problems in a broader outlook. In addition to this, she asserted the need to define questions, based on our ideas and practices, find answers ourselves, along with taking the curriculum into our own hands.

Dr Humeira highlighted that the true meaning of decolonization is not about bringing the influence of colonialism to an end. She stated that decolonization of Islamic studies and knowledge requires the understanding of our history along with its mistakes, past experiences, lackings, and problems. Only then, it would shift the mindset of people from the colonial influence.

Endorsing the ideas of Dr Humeira, Dr Fateh Malik commented on how the colonial powers, in particular the British, considered the strength of Islam as the biggest threat to them. He upheld the notion by mentioning how the creation of Pakistan – evidence of the strength of Islam, Muslim ideology, and united Muslims – was hindered several times by the colonial rulers. He further said that the British are still afraid that Pakistan would become a true realization of its founder’s ideology and that’s why they have devised various means to maintain their colonial influence in the form of colonialization of knowledge.

Dr Humaira Ahmed upheld that the Islamic studies, as a discipline, is itself a project of colonialism and whose decolonization need to be done on two levels – the discipline of Islamic studies and within the discipline itself. She identified the differences between madrassah and university students, as a product of knowledge that is being imparted to them in different ways. The differences and problems of knowledge must be looked into through different aspects and at different levels, i.e. research, academia, etc. She also asserted that this task of decolonizing knowledge and Eurocentric approaches is huge and requires defined and trained people, who are unfortunately not there.

Dr Qibla Ayaz retained the idea of colonization of knowledge in Pakistan and the role of British institutions and people like Thomas Macaulay, who introduced the current education system in the subcontinent, in pushing the subcontinent into the pit of colonialism-inflicted knowledge and education structure. He also asserted the role of youth in pushing the decolonial effort, the need for indigenized syllabus, and the requirement to decolonize other disciplines as well.

Rahman highlighted the need for a knowledge movement and work on decolonization which is multilayered and multidimensional. He also underscored the necessity of including more and more disciplines in decolonizing efforts to achieve desired progress towards it. Lastly, he expressed the inclination of IPS in contributing to the cause with candor and invited researchers, students, and scholars to its ‘Indigenizing Policy Research’ Initiative to create a community of researchers to contribute to the needs towards the decolonization effort. 






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