On July 19th, 2011, Abdou Filali-Ansary, Professor and founding Director of AKU-ISMC, gave a talk in Washington, D.C., entitled “Talking and Thinking about Politics in Contemporary Muslim Contexts.” The talk was organised by the National Endowment for Democracy, which publishes the Journal of Democracy on whose editorial board Professor Filali-Ansary sits. The talk was presented to a gathering of prominent scholars and leaders of US foundations, including President of the Carnegie Foundation, Vartan Gregorian, who offered a response to the talk.
Professor Filali-Ansary talk focused on change in Muslim societies, highlighting three key points. Firstly, he noted that scholars are often attracted to seductive theories and paradigms which serve to de-emphasise, trivialise or even deny change. Secondly, despite this tendency, change in Muslim societies is apparent and obvious, not least in how people speak and think about politics. There has been, in fact, a fundamental change in consciousness. This has led to the embracing of concepts such as civil society and governance as well as the notion of a state that is respectful of rights and bound by law. Thirdly, Professor Filali-Ansary pointed out that the challenge that lies ahead is to understand and reinterpret, where necessary, Islamic heritage. For example, Shari’a is often seen as a hardened catalogue of prescriptions. However, recast historically, it should rather be seen as a living practice through which generations thought about norms of conduct by inspiration from the Qur’an and sunna.
In his response, Vartan Gregorian welcomed Professor Filali-Ansary’s emphasis on the plurality of the Muslim world and emphasised that we should never allow ourselves to be prisoners of stereotypes.
Coordinator, Planning & Academic Development
Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations