The book launch for Cosmopolitanisms in Muslim Contexts: Perspectives from the
Past, edited by Dr Derryl MacLean and Sikeena Karmali Ahmed, was a lively affair attended by academics and thought leaders from around Greater Vancouver, Canada.
The 18th July launch was held at the Ismaili Centre, Burnaby by Aga Khan University Institue for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) and the Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures (CCSMSC), Simon Fraser University.
The publication is part of the Exploring Muslim Contexts series, previously edited by Professor Abdou Filali-Ansary, and now edited by Dr Farouk Topan, which addresses the issues faced by Muslim societies as they evolve in a rapidly globalising world.
Honoured guests at the launch reception included Bruce Lawrence, Emeritus Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University, US, described on his web page as a ‘cosmopolitan advocate of Christian-Muslim synergy’, and prominent intellectual and writer, Professor Azra Azyumardi, Director, Graduate School, State Islamic University, Jakarka, Indonesia.
Dr Topan, Interim Director at AKU-ISMC, in his opening address spoke about the role of the Institute.
“The aim of the Institute is to provide a platform to generate discussion, dialogue and understanding of the issues facing Muslims today,” he said. Critical to this endeavour, he explained, is research and teaching based on the approach of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
Co-editor Sikeena Karmali Ahmed, Manager, Publications & Editing at AKU-ISMC spoke about the “exciting but daunting” challenge of designing and implementing a publishing programme that widens and deepens the debates within Muslim societies by producing, in different languages and media, works that contribute to favouring “a new consciousness among Muslims at large” and “new attitudes towards issues affecting contemporary humanity.”
Ahmed further added, “The Institute’s publications illustrate the dynamism of scholarship taking place in Muslim contexts, much of which testifies to the critically urgent re-thinking and rewriting of the heritage being undertaken in Muslim societies today, one which perhaps mirrors the rapidly accelerating impetus towards change and globalisation evident in our increasingly cosmopolitan and diverse communities.”
The Institute’s publications programme was launched at the British Library in London, UK in 2009, with four books and three series published in partnership with Edinburgh University Press. This year sees the publication of a further five books – four in partnership with Edinburgh University Press and one with Saqi Books, London.
Derryl MacLean, co-editor and Director of the CCSMSC, paid tribute to the ‘long tradition of cooperation’ between the AKU-ISMC and their Centre, noting that the book launch coincided with the jointly offered International Summer Programme, ‘Expressions of Muslim Diversity’.
Dr MacLean traced back the inspiration for the book to a conference held at SFU’s Wosk Centre for Dialogue in 2008. Organised as part of a series of events to commemorate the golden jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan, the conference took its theme from a 2007 speech made by His Highness in his capacity as Chancellor of the Aga Khan University, in which he observed:
“Societies which have grown more pluralistic in make-up are not always growing more pluralistic in spirit. What is needed – all across the world – is a new ‘cosmopolitan ethic’ – rooted in a strong culture of tolerance.”
Cosmopolitanism is a key concept in social and political thought, standing in opposition to ideologies such as tribalism, nationalism and fundamentalism. The book focuses on instances in world history when cosmopolitan ideas and actions pervaded specific Muslim societies and cultures, exploring the tensions between regional cultures, isolated enclaves and modern nation states. Models are chosen from four geographic areas: the Swahili coast, the Ottoman Empire/Turkey, Iran and Indo-Pakistan.
A Q & A session with Dr Farouk Topan, Sikeena Karmali Ahmed and Dr Derryl MacLean followed the keynote addresses. The evening concluded with a vote of thanks and was followed by a book signing.
Sikeena Ahmed Karmali
Manager, Publications & Editing