Knowledge is universal, and so the body of facts and the basic skills that constitute a discipline remain the same no matter what the guiding philosophies of the institutions in which the disciplines are being taught. The differences come in the way facts and the skills are interpreted and used.
Thus, Islamic universities nowadays teach the social sciences with the same intensity, exactitude and body of facts as conventional universities, but with some additions, that is that the whole knowledge is given out to students through the rubrics of faith.
Scholars who have taken this approach to knowledge have given the main social sciences an Islamic touch. They teach them under such titles as Islamic economics, Islamic sociology, Islamic political thought, Islamic management systems, Islamic educational philosophy, and so on. Numerous research papers and even books and postgraduate theses have been written and published on these new disciplines.
All Islamic universities nowadays teach the Islamised disciplines side by side with the non-Islamised disciplines. Muslim scholars are now working on the Islamisation of the sciences.
The ways in which religious universities contribute to the quality of societies include teaching and research, evangelism, enforcement of strict moral codes in the institutions, and out-reach activities such as conferences, seminars, workshops and other community services.
Teaching and research are usually conducted the same way as in other universities. The main differences, particularly as far as teaching is concerned, come in through curriculum development and the choice of staff.
When the Islamised disciplines are examined, it will be discovered that the skeleton of each of them is the same as in the non-faith-based writings, but the flesh is different. The flesh has been injected with heavy doses of Islamic principles, philosophies and practices. The more flesh consumed by the students, or by the general public, the more the consumers will come to know more about Islam and the Islamic culture, and the better Muslims (if they are Muslims) they are likely to be.
The more people are influenced, the more will the Islamic university feel that it is making tremendous contributions to the quality of societies. To ensure that the flesh of Islam is given out in the right measurements, universities ensure that most academic and non-academic staff are Muslims, just as Christian universities do with Christian lecturers.
The students are always mixed, with the followers of the favoured religion dominating. Dawah, or evangelism, is the act of persistently taking to people the main principles and practices of the religion of the preacher.
In Islamic universities, students are morally and financially encouraged to carry out preaching in mosques and open-air gatherings in and outside campuses. The preachers' aim is to make their listeners understand and observe the different aspects of the Islamic culture. On the campuses, the Dawah secretariat of the students' guild is like a pressure group always working to ensure that the students comply with Islamic social norms of behaviour.
The Dawah secretariat also organises prayer sessions at regular times and takes measures to ensure compliance by the students. Only non-Muslim students will be exempted from observing the five daily prayers in mosques on the campus. The Dawah secretariat also monitors compliance with Islamic culture by the staff and reports unacceptable behaviour to the administration. So, by the time a Muslim student graduates from an Islamic university he has already, consciously or unconsciously, made Islamic culture his social identification, and has acquired some expertise in spreading the gospel without resort to coercive powers or violence. In this way he becomes an agent in enhancing the quality of the society in which he operates, as judged from the point of view of Islamic principles, aspirations and values.
However religious universities are not factories of fundamentalism or of narrow-mindedness as some people may fear. On the contrary, students are usually level-headed, highly disciplined and always willing to assist. Their integrity is, generally, very high. They have contributed tremendously, and are still actively contributing, to the moral, cultural and social transformation of their respective societies.
Contributions made by the students and graduates of Islamic universities to rid their surrounding societies of anti-religious and anti-Islamic conceptions, and also of some social ills, are remarkably evident in countries which have Islamic universities such as Uganda, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Niger Republic, and so on. They have carried out activities on and off campuses that are meant to sensitise the public on ways to lead a decent life in accordance with the code of conduct. They are always useful to the communities in which they live.
Fundamentalism, bigotry, drug addiction, and all such ills are not necessarily the products of any particular type of educational system, but of the outcome of the interaction of forces in the society. Intolerance and indiscipline by the society's leaders, ignorance and the absence of social justice are the usual causes. Qualitative faith-based education is the remedy.
If a society was to send all its young people to religious universities and then allow the graduates to practice what they have learned, the world would be a more decent and a more peaceful place to live in, for peace and decency are what all the revealed religions of the world stand for. Every year, it is young men and women who are well educated and trained in their chosen disciplines and who have absorbed the culture of decency and peace, that religious universities turn out for public consumption.
I do not say that non-religious universities are breeding grounds of rogues and cheats. Far from it. But religious universities are more conscious of their responsibilities as moulders of the moral character of their staff and students. I therefore commend religious universities to all societies.
Indeed, it is for this reason that I chose to be associated with the Islamic University in Uganda, a university which was established by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to produce male and female graduates who are well trained and disciplined both academically and socially. The university, which began with two faculties in February 1988, has now grown to five faculties (Islamic heritage, education, science, arts and social sciences, and management studies), 21 teaching departments and 23 degree programmes.
Its 700 students are drawn from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Malawi, Rwanda, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Gambia, Mali, Somalia and Eritrea. The university has a masters in Islamic studies, a postgraduate diploma in education and a one-year remedial programme. Postgraduate programmes involving other disciplines will be made available in the university as from October 1997. The language of instruction is Arabic in the faculty of Islamic heritage and English in the other four. The university plans to establish faculties of agriculture, law, engineering and medicine.
In all university activities, and in all faculties, neither staff and students nor the administration lose sight of the fact that the promotion and protection of Islam and the Islamic culture are the mainstays of the university. In this way, the Islamic University in Uganda is a university with a mission and a future.
Mahdi Adamu is vice chancellor of the Islamic University in Uganda. This is a shortened version of a paper presented at the conference of the Association of Commonwealth Universities in Malta.