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Last Updated: Monday, 4 June 2007, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
Should Islamic studies be re-thought?
Atuallah Parkar
Ataullah says Muslims view Islamic studies as not authentic
As the government calls for the teaching of Islamic studies to be rethought to combat extremism, one student argues that this could be counterproductive.

"If someone is doing Islamic studies at university, we say they are doing Satan studies," jokes Ataullah Parkar who studied the subject as an undergraduate.

But this is not, as some might suggest, because they are seen as at risk of radicalisation by extremists.

"It's because the vast majority of Muslims regard what's being taught at university as not very authentic," the Birmingham University PhD student explains.

This is because it is often taught by lecturers who are not Muslim and who tend to have views which are not accepted by the majority of Muslims, he claims.

"The kind of lecturers who tend to get the jobs in universities are likely to look at feminist interpretations of the Koran or it might be someone who will say homosexuality is permitted in Islam.

"One lecturer who taught me said that Jesus' mother was also a prophet but this has been discounted by scholars for about the last 14 or 15 hundred years."

If they start using academia as a way of pushing forward an agenda then academia will be undermined
Ataullah Parkar

Currently, undergraduates in Islamic studies look at the history of the Koran and the Hadith - the sayings of the prophet.

They will attend lectures in how to authenticate these texts which date back to the 6th Century.

They will study modern Arabic language in the same way as other language students study a language and they will look at Islamic or Sharia law, says Mr Parkar.

They will also study the history of Islam and the history of Islamic thought.

"In the final year they will do something in the modern context which is more to do with anthropology.

"Students will do a thesis and many of them are looking at Islam in the post-9/11 context," he says.

"It varies across universities but there is teaching of modern issues and they often look at the British Muslim community and the role of imams.

"There's room for a little more of this but the question is whether there is a need for it.

"Islamic studies are taught in the theology department - someone doing Muslims in modern day Britain should be in the sociology department."

Traditional knowledge

Mr Parkar says he understands what ministers are trying to do, but believes government plans could be counterproductive.

"If they start using academia as a way of pushing forward an agenda then academia will be undermined."

He expressed support for academics who voted at the University and College Union conference last week not to "spy" on Muslim students as part of the fight against extremism.

"The response from the UCU was fantastic - they really stood their ground.

"The same thing is going to be happening with Muslims - people are not going to accept it."

He argues that things will have to change if Islamic studies is to appeal as a subject to a wider group of students.

But he would like to see courses rooted in respect for traditional Islamic knowledge, not modern day sociology.

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30 May 07 |  Education
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17 Nov 06 |  Education

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