by SHERALI TAREEN for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on JULY 3, 2015:
Recent years have witnessed a spate of journalistic and popular writings on the looming threat to civilization that lurks in traditional Islamic seminaries or madrasas that litter the physical and intellectual landscape of the Muslim world. In his riveting new book What is a Madrasa? (University of North Carolina Press, 2015), Ebrahim Moosa, Professor of History and Islamic Studies at the University of Notre Dame, challenges such sensationalist stereotypical narratives by providing a nuanced and richly textured account of the place and importance of Madrasas in Islam both historically and in the contemporary moment.
Rather than approaching madrasas from a policy studies viewpoint as institutions requiring reform and modernization, this book instead examines madrasas on their own terms with a view of highlighting their internal complexities and tensions. Focused primarily on the madrasas of South Asia, what makes this book particularly remarkable is the way it brings together the intellectual histories and traditions that define madrasa education and the everyday practices in madrasa life today.
The reader of this book travels through an arcade of the seminal texts, scholars, and sites that have shaped the madrasa as an institution and its curricula over the last several centuries. But moreover, this book also provides readers intimate portraits of daily life at madrasas through the eyes of students who study there, thus bringing into view the rhythms of everyday practices that punctuate the lives of madrasa students, and the hopes, anxieties, and aspirations that irrigate their religious and social imaginaries.
In our conversation, in addition to discussing these themes, we also talked about Professor Moosa’s own journey as a teenager in the madrasas of South Asia to the corridors of the American academy. Written in an exceptionally lucid fashion, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the complexities of Muslim traditions of knowledge and education. It will also be particularly well suited for undergraduate and graduate seminars on Muslim intellectual thought, education, and Islam in South Asia.
LISTEN to interview with MOOSA