What happens when the preservation and imparting of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition collides with a context in which Muslims are a minority living in a non-Islamic system?

Collisions have the capability to produce phenomenal amounts of energy in the form of gravitational waves.  Some astrophysicists theorize these waves take you to the source.  As we sit today, in the presence of Dr. Mohammed Pervaiz and Ustadh Firas Alkhateeb, we encounter the immense energy and flashes of light accompanying those in the quest for more knowledge as content and context collide.  Inside the walls of Darul Qasim College, the Humanities Department builds in faculty and students a confidence and resolve to engage in Muslim and non-Muslim academic spaces with creativity, deep understanding, and Divine knowledge.

Join them to learn more about what happens when content and context collide!

What is different about the Department of Humanities at DQC?

In relation to the other departments, the precarity of the Humanities Department is an important reality to consider. Dr. Mohammed Pervaiz notes, “the other departments are much more established historically as a part of the Dars al-Niẓāmī curriculum that goes back 1,000 years. This curriculum uses established texts that are taught and then re-presented, not in the same way, but with the same spirit. Humanities Department functions differently.”

Ustadh Firas elaborates, “I’m sure you’ve heard Shaykh Amin talk about the idea of content and context. Islamic content is taught in other departments at Darul Qasim College. However, if we are going to have graduates who are going to be ʿulamāʾ, imams, shuyūkh, muftis, or Islamic scholars in the community, they need to be proficient in American content. American content means knowing the ideas that grew out of America.”

Ustadh Firas takes this idea of content and context further and speaks to the vision and overarching goal of the department:

“We want to help students understand that when we talk about America as an idea, we need to know where that idea came from. Muslim students must recognize that if you want to have an impact here – we’re talking decades or hundreds of years down the line – it needs to be in the intellectual realm. What is the intellectual basis of the United States? Once we know that, we can then begin working within the historical context that we live in to re-present the Islamic Content.”  

What Impact Does Humanities Have in America?

“The job of the Humanities Department is to bridge the gap between the Islamic sciences and American academia. In the American educational landscape, what makes Darul Qasim College unique is that it provides a complete Islamic education to the point that you don’t need to go to a different country to become an ʿālim. The Humanities Department takes it one step further and operates at the Islamic level and at the academic level as well. Nobody does what we do.”

Dr. Pervaiz calls our attention to his positioning within the department.

“Firas and I teach different types of students and have different orientations in the humanities. He’s more of an intellectual historian and teaches what we can ostensibly call the undergraduate portion of Darul Qasim College. My interests are in the history of ideas, philosophical concepts, and anthropological practices. I teach both classical and 20th century thought and how Muslims have tried to deal with issues of modernity since the 18th century. My students tend to be trained ʿulamāʾ. They are already grounded enough to speak about Islam. Thus my courses introduce them to both classical and contemporary discourses of the West.”

After a reflective pause Dr. Pervaiz continues:

“Islam has an academic tradition. The commonplace idea that Islam is simple, Shaykh Amin says, doesn’t mean it’s simplistic, just because it’s a religious tradition. Rather, it’s a tradition that has both intellectual (written) as well as embodied (oral) thought in it that need not be discarded just because the 20th century says so.”

How Does Humanities Preserve Muslim American Identity and Narrative?

Dr. Pervaiz’s reflection bring us in the shade of the willow as we observe the stark reality that lies before us with hope and resolve. “Darul Qasim College is a place where people are getting together under their belief in Allah ﷻ, the Prophet ﷺ, and the Last Day. We as Muslims, by practice and by our faith, can no longer subscribe to the division of religion into a separate sphere of life. Because if we permit these divisions in our knowledge, it will eventually happen in our lives. This results in a confused hyper-compartmentalized self where you don’t know who you are. That’s part of the confusion that modernity promotes. Darul Qasim to me is a place that does not subscribe to these modern distinctions of religious versus secular knowledge that were taught to us by others.A lot of Muslims are very much invested in this question of taking back our own narrative, but at the end of the day it becomes a reactionary mode of doing academics. And I’ve never seen Shaykh Amin do that or teach me to do that. Reactionary academics leads to a circular firing squad. Everybody gets killed. Islam doesn’t work that way, it has to rise above reactionary polemics. We need to have our own institutions, not simply to take back the Muslim narrative, but to speak as authorities in our field.”

Shaykh Amin’s leadership and vision has instilled in faculty like Dr. Mohammed the necessity to operate beyond reactionary polemics.   

“The uniqueness that Shaykh Amin is giving us is a chance and opportunity to be able to speak, as we see fit, and not be compelled to speak through the latest fashion. Theory seems to be clothing these days. He’s given us an opportunity to first of all acknowledge that is the condition we’re in, but it’s not what we ought to remain in for Islam to speak. This to me is unique in that many of our institutions don’t see that as a problem. And they don’t have faculty with ‘ijāzat. I think that’s also something open to question from our own tradition. So yeah, Islam is a tradition, but it’s not a tradition like other traditions, and we are given a chance to show that.”

As an institution, Darul Qasim College has built a space where students of the Islamic Sciences are given a broader historical understanding of the Islamic intellectual tradition. Ustadh Firas powerfully argues, “We have this very American idea of exceptionalism. Like, ‘oh, well, this is unlike anything ever before! There’s never been a society as diverse or as progressive or as whatever as ours!’ 

And then you study Muslim history, and you’re like, ‘No, here’s like, 12 examples right off the top of my head!’ And this is how they dealt with their contexts while implementing Islamic content. I view the Humanities Department as being really important in that regard and having students understand that if this was done before it can be done again.”

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