Starting from an autobiographical perspective, Dr. Aljunied pointed to the pervasive nature of diversity and hybridity throughout Muslim history. By recognizing this hybridity, Muslims can liberate themselves from the presently prevalent discourse which leads them to act either apologetically or in an offensive manner.
The presenter then turned to Dr. Abdul Hamid Abu Sulayman’s book Crisis in the Muslim Mind which highlighted the importance of understanding Muslim history, in order to learn from it and improve on it. Abu Sulayman writes, “We must understand our past, benefit from its lessons, and make it a source of strength by concentrating on its positive aspects and then building upon them. We have already wasted centuries on the negative aspects of our history, and we certainly cannot afford to waste any more time or effort on such matters.” (Crisis, pg.60) Taking this methodological stance, Dr. Aljunied turned to our current situation and stated that Muslims need to recover the cosmopolitan strain from their history
Dr. Aljunied defined Muslim cosmopolitanism as “a style of thought, a habit of seeing the world and a way of living that is rooted in the ideals of Islam which is that all men are part of a common humanity accountable towards God and that we are morally responsible to one another. To embrace Muslim cosmopolitanism is to exhibit a high degree of receptiveness to universal values that are embedded within one’s own customs (urf) as well as to maintain an open attitude towards people from other backgrounds and cultures in the path to ensure the protection of faith, life, lineage, intellect and property of any given group or individual in society. It follows then that a Muslim cosmopolitan is one who is committed to a set of practices and actions that are aimed at enlivening the spirit of compassion (rahmah), justice (adala), cooperation (ta’awun) and consensus (musyawarah) in order to safeguard public interest (maslahah).”
While reviewing major cosmopolitan Muslim cities in history – Baghdad, Bukhara, Cordoba, Damscus, Cairo, Fez, Mogadishu, Malacca, Istanbul, Sarajevo, and Delhi – Dr. Aljunied explained four facets of Muslim cosmopolitanism: (1) scholarship and education, (2) politics, (3) architecture and arts, and (4) alliances. Muslim cosmopolitanism is not an abstract phenomenon. Rather, it is manifested in spaces and places. There are many aspects that could be learned from this historical survey: openness, hospitality, respect of strangers, mobility, hybridity, and inclusiveness.
During the ensuing discussion, Dr. Abubaker al-Shingieti, the Executive Director of IIIT USA, stressed the need for basing the approach to Muslim cosmopolitanism in tawhidic paradigm, based on Isma’il al-Faruqi’s ideas. Dr. Hisham Altalib emphasized the importance of education and the need to create what he called ‘American-Islamic’ culture.
Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied is an Associate Professor, with tenure, at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore. He has a PhD in History from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, and an MA and a BA from the National University of Singapore. He is the author and editor of 6 books, which include Colonialism Violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia (London: Routledge, 2009) and Radicals: Protest and Mobilization in Colonial Malaya (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2014 [forthcoming]). His research interests include Colonialism and Postcolonialism, Identity Politics, Minority Rights and Movements, Muslim-non-Muslim Relations, with a special focus on Southeast Asia. He is currently a Fulbright Fellow at the Institute of Religion, Culture, and Public Life at Columbia University in New York.
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