Islam study is not a policy tool - Hefce

November 30, 2007

Academics and the funding council have warned the Department of
Innovation, Universities and Skills not to view Islamic studies courses as
a tool for defeating terrorism and radical Islamist movements, writes
Melanie Newman.


The Government earlier this year defined Islamic studies as a
"strategically important subject" following a report on Islamic studies at
universities by Attaullah Siddiqui.


In its response to the report, DIUS said that universities' examination of
Islam in the modern context would help to prevent violent extremism and
improve community cohesion.


Academics have countered that it is not the role of academe to meet these
policy objectives.


The Higher Education Funding Council for England's board paper on Islamic
studies warns: "There are risks that we raise expectations that cannot be
met by the designation of Islamic studies as strategically important."


It adds: "We have no constitutional remit or desire to determine what is
studied, when it is studied or to limit who is studying it."


Hefce is to spend up to £1 million over the next academic year on
scrutinising the challenges facing the discipline.


Robert Gleave, executive director of the British Society for Middle
Eastern Studies, said the Government's emphasis on Islam's modern context
was misplaced.


"Unless you take a long view of the way in which Muslims have interpreted
their faith over the centuries, you cannot understand what is happening
today," he said.


Professor Gleave criticised the belief that university Islamic studies
could encourage moral behaviour of a particular type.


"That is completely fallacious. We have to be able to teach without the
aim of encouraging or discouraging certain versions of Islam," he
said.


Chase Robinson, professor of Islamic history at Oxford University,
welcomed the "strategically important" designation as an opportunity to
address the chronic underfunding of Islamic studies.


"What must be understood from the outset, however, is that, as the
Siddiqui report correctly emphasised, Islamic studies must not be narrowly
restricted to the 'study of Islamic religion'," Professor Robinson added.

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