In a well-attended October workshop at Duke on Islamic Institutions of Higher Learning in Africa: Their History, Mission and Role in Regional Development, which drew a number of scholars and administrators from the U.S. and Africa, Dr. Moshood Mahmud Jimba (Kwara State University, Nigeria) presented a paper on ‘The Role of Al-Azhar University in Educating the Nigerian Youth:  Ilorin – Al-Azhar Institute as a Case Study.”

(Al-Azhar University, in Cairo, Egypt, was founded in the tenth century as a centre of Islamic learning is today the chief center of Arabic literature and Islamic learning in the world)

While he was at Duke, I had an opportunity to interview Jimba on the impact of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University on Islamic higher education in Nigeria, as well both the positive contributions of Islamic higher education to society and its limits (within the Nigerian context). Continue reading


Muhammed Haron (left) and Gil Merkx
Muhammed Haron (left) and Gil Merkx

Many Muslim institutions of higher learning have emerged on the African continent over the past few decades. These institutions have in one way or another made their contributions towards the societies and environments where they are situated. Despite the noble objectives of some that were set up, the objectives often have been unrealized as a result of a lack of financial and other resources. There have, however, been other institutions that have flourished and made invaluable inputs to their respective communities.

It is hard to find a text that adequately covers these institutions, even in places where one might expect it, including in Paul Scrijver’s authoritative Bibliography of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa (Leiden: E.J. Brill 2009),

So when Duke University’s Duke Islamic Studies Center (DISC) announced a workshop to discuss and engage scholars on “Islamic Institutions of Higher Learning in Africa: Their History, Mission and Role in Regional Development,” there were eager responses to participate in what may be regarded as an oft-neglected area of Islamic studies research. The Duke Islamic Studies Center and its Carnegie Corporation of New York-supported Transcultural Islam Project (to be explained in-depth later in this paper) offered an interesting platform for this exploratory workshop.

AfricaIslamGraphicThe workshop organizers, under the co-directorship of Duke professors Mbaye Lo and Bruce Hall, hosted a group of scholars who came from different parts of the continent (and elsewhere from the US and Europe) — scholars who have been evaluating these types of institutions’ status in the transnational Muslim arena.

The organizers were interested to know, inter alia, to what extent these institutions were involved in pursuing research, perpetuating traditional Muslim scholarship, and creatively contributing towards the society’s economic development.

With these noble aims and objectives in mind, let us offer an overview in this report of our two-day workshop at Duke University. (Other sponsors included the International Institute of Islamic Thought  (headquartered in Virginia); The Africa Initiative (Duke); Asian & Middle Eastern Studies (Duke); African & Afro-American Studies (Duke); Duke History Department; Duke Religion Department; Center for Muslim Life (Duke); Franklin Humanities Institute (Duke), Duke Center for International Development; The Kenan Institute for Ethics; Duke Divinity School; and Duke University Center for International Studies.)

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by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on JANUARY 28, 2014: 

bookcover.Jews and Muslims have been intertwined for fourteen centuries.  Their long relationship is the subject of A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations: From the Origins to the Present Day (Princeton University Press, 2013). This elegant and learned new book is edited by Abdelwahab Meddeb, a professor of comparative literature at the University of Paris-X (Nanterre), and Benjamin Stora, University Professor at the University of Paris-XIII (Villetaneuse).

A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations features articles by a distinguished team of scholars of Islamic and Jewish history.  Among these scholars is Mark R. Cohen, who is both Emeritus Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, Emeritus at Princeton University.  Cohen was educated at Brandeis University, Columbia University, and the Jewish Theological Seminary.  He is the author of Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt (Princeton University Press, 2005), The Voice of the Poor in the Middle Ages: An Anthology of Documents from the Cairo Geniza (Princeton University Press, 2005), and Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages (Princeton University Press, 1994; revised edition, 2008).

This book has been translated into many languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, French, German, Romanian, Czech, Russian, and soon in Spanish. In 2010, Cohen was awarded the first Goldziher Prize for scholarship promoting a better understanding between Jews and Muslims.

Mark R. Cohen discusses A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations in this exclusive interview.

How is this new book “a reunion” and “a restoration” of the historical bonds between Jews and Muslims?

Jews and Muslims lived together for centuries in close proximity. Judaism contributed ideas and concepts to Islam. Islam, in turn, contributed much to Judaism. The book aims, among other things, to inform readers of these and other aspects of Jewish-Muslim coexistence, which, in the present state of things in the world, have been forgotten behind the smoke of conflict. Continue reading

by BRUCE B. LAWRENCE for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on NOVEMBER 29, 2012:

What can we learn from an aging Turkish Imam with a pan-Turkish cultural movement to his name and a deceased Algerian philosopher — both of whom command attention as devout Muslims and men of science — about civilizational rebuilding in the modern era?

Scholars gathered in Algiers from Nov 21-22 at the College of Islamic Sciences at the University of Algiers to find out.

“The Philosophy of Civilizational Rebuilding, according to Malek Bennabi and Fetullah Gülen: Guidelines for Creative Thinking & Effective Action” was the theme for the conference, and I was invited to give a paper on this weighty subject. Continue reading

by MBAYE LO for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on NOVEMBER 14, 2012:

“One side argues from a perspective of freedom and mercy, as is the case with the academics, while the militants argue from the perspective of what they consider justice. The extreme diligence in pursuit of each set of values would violate the entirety of the other.” — Mbaye Lo

The response of academics and Muslims religious groups to the blowback generated by the film the “Innocence of Muslims” this past September — in the form of violent protests across the Muslim world — is the latest example of a clear disconnect in our attempts to address the problem of Islamic militancy, and warrants a clear retrospective analysis.

Most liberal academics and American Muslim religious groups tend to be apologetic about the behavior of citizens-turned-militants, rather than constructively engaging the militants’ arguments. Continue reading