"The history of Islamic Studies, both in the West and East, is centuries old. In the West, it has passed through different stages/ phases (beginning with Orientalism)."
"The history of Islamic Studies, both in the West and East, is centuries old. In the West, it has passed through different stages/ phases (beginning with Orientalism)."Special arrangement

The story of an academic discipline

Narrating the evolution, advancement, and approaches of Islamic Studies as an academic discipline

Islamic Studies, as a subject dealing with the study of Islamic history, culture and civilization, is not a new discipline”; “its name is new”, but the not the subject itself and the contents it covers, because “the discipline is as old as Orientalism itself.”

This statement was put forth by Prof. Syed Maqbool Ahmad (in an Urdu quarterly, ‘Islam aur Asr-e Jadid’, vol. 22, no. 1, 1990: 5-18, pp. 6, 16). The term ‘Orientalism’, literally the study of the Orient/ East, refers to the study of East and Eastern religions and cultures in general, and of Islam and Muslims in particular.

This is the general conception of the discipline, which has passed through different stages/ phases before it got this specific name, as becomes evident from many works, including Azim Nanji’s Mapping Islamic Studies: Genealogy, Continuity and Change (1997), Richard Martin’s Approaches to Islam in Religious Studies (2001) and Clinton Bennett’s Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies (2013), to name a few: Orientalism, Theology, Religious Studies, Areas Studies and Islamic Studies. The concept of Islamic Studies as a social science discipline “has a long journey in contemporary world, having different meanings and perspectives in Arab world and in Western world”.

The history of Islamic Studies, both in the West and East, is centuries old. In the West, it has passed through different stages/ phases (beginning with Orientalism).

In the East, including the Indian context, its history dates back, to speak from the academic/ teaching point of view, to the early decades of 20th century.

Similarly, in J&K it was introduced from late 1980s. It will not be unfair to add here that the history of subject is both ‘extensive and complex’. It has passed through different stages, and has transformed, especially in the past few decades, tremendously.

Keeping in view the significance and history of the subject, both in Western as well as in Eastern/ Arab world, and considering the fact that it is subject of utmost importance in India too, there have been many attempts to narrate and recount its journey, mostly by the Western scholars.

One such recent attempt is Dr. Ashraf Amin’s Islamic Studies in Academia: Evolution, Approaches and Prospects. Here is provided a brief summary of this book.

Published in January 2023 (by a local publishing house), the book under review, it attempts to account and narrate the history of Islamic Studies, as a social science discipline, in general and in Kashmir in particular and tries to put it in the proper perspective by referring to the genesis and genealogy of this subject from Western and Islamic perspective by looking at its present scenario and taking into consideration the future prospects as well (pp. xii, 3).

In the Introduction (pp.1-4), the author (presently working as an Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Central University of Kashmir) presents the overall objective and purpose of this work in these words: the book attempts “to acquaint the readers to the discourse on Islam and Islamic Studies in the Western and Muslim scholarly circles” by offering “a healthy overview of Islamic studies as an academic discipline in Western and Muslim academia till date.” (p. 3)

Divided into eight (8) chapters (excluding Introduction and Conclusion), the book is preceded by Acknowledgements, Preface, Introduction and a Foreword (pp. vii-ix) by Prof. Sayyid Muhammad Yunus Gilani (presently at IIUM, Malaysia) and ends with Conclusion (pp. 97-101), Bibliography (pp. 105-110) and Appendix (pp. 111-146).

In his ‘Foreword’, Prof. Gilani (who is a pioneering figure in establishing Islamic Studies at Shah-i-Hamdan Institute of Islamic Studies [SHIIS], University of Kashmir puts forth that “Islamic Studies is [an] all comprehensive and all-embracing discipline”, which “aims at overall personality building of an individual on Islamic lines” for it is “a life-long process of study and development” (p. vii). He also appreciates the efforts of Dr. Amin for his discussions on “the fallacies of the Western scholarship in understanding Islam and Muslims” (p. ix).

In its eight (8) chapters, the book throws light, albeit briefly, on the genesis ad genealogy, evolution and growth, methods and approaches, challenges and prospects of this discipline by discussing its ‘Nature, Origin, Definitions’, ‘Western’ and ‘Islamic’ contexts, Traditional and Modernist Approaches, place and position of Islamic studies as a social science subject, followed by three chapters on its place in Modern-day Academia, in Malaysian Seminaries and its history and growth in J&K. The main points, arguments and historical facts vis-à-vis the concept and growth of Islamic studies as a multi/inter/trans-disciplinary social science subject are summarised below:

The field of Islamic Studies, which is often taken for-granted (resulting in misunderstanding it), emerged as a formal social science discipline in the West at the dawn of the modern era, but a lot has changed since then (p. xi);

The emergence of the modern academic study of Islam in the West was primarily associated with the Oriental Studies or Orientalism, which later on witnessed two major developments: ‘scientific study of the history of religion’ (or as a part of Religious Studies) and studying Islam/ Muslims as a social science subject under the ‘study of “other” cultures and peoples’, revealing that its boundaries were constantly being revised (pp. 8, 9);

The study of Islam and Muslims in the Western academy has a long and perplexed history (p. 19);

Western studies of Islam progressed from viewing it in the 12th century as a Christian heresy or a false religion to more systematic and disciplined approaches in the late 16th and 17th centuries (p. 24);

The contemporary approach of Western scholarship towards Orient, especially the Muslim Orient, would be labelled as ‘New Orientalism’ that views Islam and Muslims in terms of ‘anti-modernity/democracy (p. 32);

In Islamic framework, Islamic Studies is a faith-based study of Islamic religious sciences intended to preserve Islam through approximate interpretations for posterity (p. 37);

There are two major trends in studying Islam, viz., ‘imperial prejudices’ and ‘systematic view’; and since the second half of 20th century, later has become ‘general trend’ (p. 43);

Pubic interest in Islam has increased dramatically in the first decade of 21st century, especially since the events of 9/11, which has powerfully affected the discipline of Islamic studies (pp. 74-75); and

Inter-disciplinary and trans-regional centres for the study of Islam and Muslims in modern world have been identified as key locations for the development of new approaches to Islamic studies (p.76). 

This is followed by a chapter on “Islamic Studies in Jammu and Kashmir” (pp. 92-96) in which the author narrates the history of Islamic Studies as “one of the prime subjects in humanities and social sciences” which has seen an “increasing interest” among the students for its “multi-disciplinary nature” (p. 92).

It provides a brief profile of these departments of Islamic Studies in a chronological order with a focus on their academic achievements since their inception: SHIIS, KU (1988), DoIS, Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST; 2006), Department of Religious Studies (DoRS), Central University of Kashmir (CUK; 2017) and DoIS, Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, Rajouri (BGSBU; 2017).

He describes these departments, respectively, in these words: SHIIS has “acted as pioneer in the progress and consolidation of Islamic studies in modern academia”; DoIS, IUST has “made a unique name in academics” by generating a “great atmosphere of learning and research”; DoRS, CUK is the “first of its type where religious understanding, religious literacy and Islamic sciences meet for a joint academic stride” and is “fine blend” of trans/inter/multi-disciplinary “approaches in religion and Islamic studies”; and DoIS, BGSBU, though youngest of all, has “outshined all other departments of Islamic studies in organizing seminars, workshops, conferences despite limited resources” (pp. 92, 93, 94, 95).

However, one finds it surprising to note that the author has referred to the journal, Revelation (which is still in its infancy) published by DoRS, CUK but has ignored the SHIIS, KU’s annual journal Insight Islamicus—published since 2001 and indexed in London-based Index Islamicus. Also, surprising is the fact that in profiling these departments, he has focused on faculty members of SHIIS, KU while in others he has not mentioned the names of any faculty member and  even date of establishment of the department is not mentioned in each case.

These chapters are followed by ‘Conclusion’ in which he tries to summarize overall history of the subject from Western and Muslim perspectives. This is followed by an Appendix (pp. 111-146), in which he provides academic profile of the a dozen faculty members of Islamic studies who have worked, and/or working, in the universities of KU, IUST, CUK and BGSBU.

Though addressed to, and written for, the students and scholars of Islamic studies, the book has many shortcomings; some of them include: inconsistency in referencing style and in the Bibliography; incomplete or no references for many quotations and statements (see e.g., pp. 8, 16, 41, 5-56, 59, 62, 67); indirect/ secondary references for easily available/ accessible books (see e.g., pp. 41, 50, 52); typo errors (pp. 97, 133); and no coverage or profiling of Islamic studies departments of India.

Keeping aside these shortcomings, Dr. Ashraf Amin’s Islamic Studies in Academia is a valuable reference guide for the students and scholars of Islamic studies which will prove helpful to them in understanding and comprehension of Islamic Studies as an academic discipline.

The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC Sogam (Lolab) Kupwara (J&K).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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