On Monday, October 3, 2016, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) held a one-day seminar honoring the legacy of Dr. Jamal Barzinji, one of the Institute’s founders and leaders, who passed away in 2015. The seminar highlighted Dr. Barzinji’s legacy in four main areas: (1) Institutional and Community Development, (2) Renewal of Islamic Thought, (3) Reform of Education, and (4) Publications and Dissemination of Knowledge.
The seminar began with a 23-minute video on Dr. Barzinji’s life and legacy. The video highlighted many areas in which Dr. Barzinji made significant contributions: building of Islamic institutions in the UK and the US, Islamic finance and banking, business ventures, charitable works, and intellectual contributions, among others.
Speaking on the first panel, Institutional and Community development, Dr. Hisham Altalib, President of IIIT, highlighted Dr. Jamal’s role in helping establish Muslim student organizations in the UK and Ireland, as well as in the United States. He charted the history of activism and works that led to the establishment of IIIT as an institution dedicated to ijtihad (intellectual work and making Islam relevant in contemporary times). Imam Mohamed Magid of ADAMS Center recalled how he met Dr. Jamal, when he still didn’t know who he was, and he was impressed by the latter’s humility and commitment. Dr. Heidi Hadsell, President of Hartford Seminary, talked about the fruitful and long-standing collaboration between IIIT and Hartford Seminary, and the role Dr. Barzinji played in these efforts. Finally, Dr. Yaqub Mirza highlighted the development of IIIT endowment and how Dr. Jamal contributed to it. One thing Dr. Mirza highlighted is that Dr. Barzinji taught him to, whenever choosing an option, choose one that he would be able to defend on the Day of Judgment.
The second panel focused on Renewal of Islamic Thought, which is one of the primary objectives of IIIT. Dr. Zainab Alwani spoke about the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) and how Dr. Barzinji always encouraged her to make FCNA fully functioning and contributing to the well-being of American Muslims. Dr. Jasser Auda spoke about the development of the discourse of maqasid al-shari’ah (objectives of Islamic law and ethics) and how – early on – Dr. Jamal gave him full support in developing his manuscript, publishing it and then arranging to translate it into many languages. Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, IIIT Chair in Interfaith Studies at Nazareth College in Rochester, NY, remembered his days as a student under the late Professor Isma’il al-Faruqi and Dr. Jamal’s contributions in endowing the IIIT Chair at Nazareth. Next, Prof. Abdulaziz Sachedina, IIIT Chair at George Mason University, spoke fondly of Dr. Jamal and his deep understanding of academic issues related to Islam and Muslims. Dr. Sachedina highlighted the essentially secular nature of the academia and the need for Muslims to engage with it. He also emphasized Dr. Barzinji's distaste for popular expressions of Islam as the latter always focused on deep, scholarly approaches to religion. Finally, Dr. John Esposito of Georgetown University spoke about Dr. Jamal’s leadership in establishing AlWaleed centers for Islamic studies at various universities, including Georgetown, Harvard, Edinburgh, and Cambridge.
Reform of Education was the theme of the third panel. Dr. Barzinji held that education is the core issue in Muslim societies and that reform of education is an imperative for those societies to move forward and rediscover their dynamism. Dr. Hisham Altalib spoke about IIIT’s focus on reform of education and Dr. Jamal’s strategic vision for it. Dr. Amaarah DeCuir, an independent researcher, highlighted her contributions at IIIT’s conference on reform of education and the roles that Muslim women have in that effort. Dr. Abubaker al-Shingieti, IIIT’s Executive Director, reflected on Dr. Barzinji’s strategic planning and contributions, while Ermin Sinanovic, IIIT’s Director of Research, spoke about Dr. Jamal as the Dean of the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). Sinanovic spoke about Dr. Barzinji’s reform of curriculum at IIUM and how it contributed to elevating the level of instruction at the university.
The fourth, and final, panel focused on Publications and Dissemination of Knowledge. Dr. Jamal was tireless in his efforts to solicit, produce, and publish many works in Islamic thought, both in English and Arabic. He led the IIIT’s Publication Department for many years, resulting in many books, papers, and two academic journals that IIIT continues to publish. Dr. Anas Al-Shaikh-Ali, Executive Director of IIIT UK office, wrote a moving testimony to his relationship with Dr. Jamal and the ways in which they worked together to improve IIIT’s publishing efforts. Dr. Katherine Bullock, who is a former editor of IIIT’s English academic journal, American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, reflected on her role as the editor and Dr. Jamal’s unconditional support. Dr. Bullock stated that Dr. Jamal always treated her as an equal, something that was rare in her previous experiences working with men. Finally, Dr. Charles Butterworth presented his thoughts and views on IIIT books and publications, and reminisced about his interactions with Dr. Barzinji.
The seminar was attended by about fifty people, from different walks of life – academicians, community leaders, and business people. The love which Dr. Jamal Barzinji spread abundantly in his life was evident at al-Faruqi Library on October 3.
Dr. Jamal Barzinji was born on 15 December, 1939 in Mosul, Iraq. He was instrumental in the founding of many major Muslim institutions, including the IIIT where he was a Trustee and previously Vice President for Research and Publications. He provided leadership and support for IIIT decisions to commit resources to interfaith programs at various institutions, including Hartford Seminary (Hartford, CT), Nazareth College (Rochester, NY), and Huron University College at Western University (London, Ontario, in Canada). He also served as the Dean of Faculty of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, the International Islamic University Malaysia. Dr. Barzinji had a PhD. and MSc. in Chemical Engineering, with a minor in Management, from Louisiana State University, U.S.A. (1974), and a BSc. in Chemical Engineering & Fuel Technology from the University of Sheffield, England (1962). He passed away on Saturday, September 26, 2015, after a long illness.
Click here for video playlist.