International Conference On New Horizons For Islamic Area Studies

Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.

Salam sejahtera.

Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim.

Segala puji milik Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala; Tuhan yang menguasai segala khazanah ilmu dan lautan pengetahuan. Selawat dan salam kepada Junjungan Besar, Nabi Muhammad Sallallahu Alai Wassalam, ahli keluarga dan para sahabat Baginda serta kepada para Tabiin dan para ulama. Semoga memperoleh ihsan di hari kebangkitan.

  1. Beta bersyukur ke hadrat ILAHI kerana dengan izin dan inayat dari Nya juga, Beta dapat berangkat untuk melafazkan titah di konferensi ‘New Horizons For Islamic Area Studies” yang berlangsung pada pagi ini.
  2. I am delighted to have been invited to deliver the opening address to this historic conference that has brought together scholars from over twenty countries representing more than sixty universities and research institutions worldwide. I believe that this is a unique and significant conference. This is the first time that a major collaborative endeavor on Islamic studies has been undertaken by Japan and Malaysia.
  3. I understand there are a large number of Arabic speakers among the Japanese participants and this may well be the largest assembly of Arabic-speaking scholars from different cultures and countries outside the Middle East.
  4. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my congratulations to the two organizers of this conference, namely, the Asia-Europe Institute of the University of Malaya and the National Institute for Humanities Islamic Area Studies Program, Japan for making this conference possible. I would also like to congratulate Yayasan Restu for its supporting role.
  5. The choice of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia as the venue for this conference has contemporary significance for at least two reasons. First, Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country where Islam is the official religion, and where the freedom to practice all other religions is constitutionally guaranteed. If you care to look around in Kuala Lumpur you will see houses of worship of the different religious groups: mosques, temples, churches and shrines, some standing very close to each other, all testifying to the religious freedom that Malaysians enjoy.
  6. Second, Malaysia is widely recognized as an exemplar of a modern, progressive and moderate Muslim country. It has demonstrated that economic development and technology are not incompatible with Islam. Islamic banking and insurance are two examples of innovation that have become models for other countries. Malaysia can thus become a voice in the global debate, helping to correct the current inter-religious misunderstandings that are dangerously dividing the world.
  7. In recent years Islam and Muslims have come under intensive and critical global scrutiny. Among non-Muslims, there is a desire to learn more about the religion. This interest is motivated not only by intellectual curiosity but also by the recognition that Islam constitutes a dynamic force in the contemporary world order.
  8. As a result, publications on subjects related to Islam have increased phenomenally. For example, the publication of the Quran and its translations into various languages has witnessed a marked increase. In Japan itself, I understand there are no less than seven different translated versions of the Quran. Research centres, institutions and projects focusing on Islam have mushroomed everywhere. Islamic studies have become a popular course in universities and colleges all over the world. Many Islamic universities and colleges have also been established including in non-Muslim countries.
  9. The main goal of this conference, as I understand it, is to explore new horizons of Islamic studies across cultures and continents. The view that Islam is the monopoly of any one culture, country, region or continent is not only outdated but also misleading. It has a global presence as a universal faith and it can only be properly understood in that framework.
  10. There is also a need to recognize that Islam is not just about rituals and rules interpreted in a narrow legalistic sense. It encompasses practically every aspect of human life that deals with the temporal as well as the spiritual. Islamic studies, therefore, will be severely constrained and too circumscribed, if it does not seek to address the problems of this life in addition to dealing with those of the hereafter.
  11. From its beginnings, this was what Islamic studies was supposed to be, and indeed it was this attitude and approach that had led to the flowering of all fields of knowledge in the golden days of the early Muslim civilizations. The past achievements of the Muslims in the sciences, architecture, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, literature, history, arts and calligraphy could not have been accomplished without this conceptual framework of knowledge.
  12. While the place of the classical texts such as the Quran, Hadiths and Commentaries of scholars, and subjects such as Islamic Jurisprudence, Sharia, Usul-ud-din and Tafsir will remain as the irreducible core of Islamic studies, the tools and methodologies used and the references employed will need to be continually improved and updated.
  13. Likewise it is also necessary to try to understand the different spatial and chronological contexts within which Islam has evolved in order to understand its uniqueness.
  14. Islam has always placed a high value on learning and knowledge. Scholars, as seekers of the truth and custodians of knowledge, have a very special place in Islam. The Quran explicitly recognizes the special status of scholars in human society. It is significant to note that the term ‘knowledge’ is cited over eight hundred times in the Quran. In fact, the first word of revelation, ‘Iqra’ itself is directly related to learning. The Prophet [Peace Be Upon Him], although unlettered himself, in many of his sayings, urged Muslims to seek knowledge, underlining in no uncertain terms its value and importance.
  15. Islamic studies are not new in Malaysia. It is as old as the history of Islam’s presence in the region. But what probably is new are the attempts, especially but not exclusively by the government, to review and renew Islamic studies to make it more relevant to the needs of the present without undermining its original mission.
  16. Malaysia has close relations with Japan. Malaysia’s Look East Policy, initiated in the early 1980s, is testimony to the high regard and warm affection that Malaysia and Malaysians continue to place towards Japan and the Japanese people.
  17. Malaysia’s admiration for Japan has been influenced in large part by the perception of Japanese society as a knowledge-based society. The Japanese love for knowledge, exemplified by their commitment to lifelong learning, their passion for reading and the reverence they accord scholars, are widely viewed as admirable cultural traits worthy of emulation.
  18. As Islam also invokes Muslims to show respect to people of knowledge and to be themselves knowledgeable, Japanese values that relate to learning and scholarship are easily identifiable as universal values which are compatible with Islamic values. There is a general sense among Muslims, not just in Malaysia but everywhere, that Japan can be their model of progress and modernity.
  19. Japan’s contribution to the development of Islamic scholarship has been significant although it was a late starter. The establishment of Islamic research centres in universities and colleges across Japan in the last few decades has already produced a sizeable pool of Japanese scholars of Islamic studies and a growing corpus of research-based academic literature on many different aspects of Islam, some of which are not even known to the Muslims themselves.
  20. I believe this conference is an important event not simply because it shows a remarkably high degree of academic cooperation between Japan and Malaysia in addressing a subject of considerable import but also because of the manner in which it has been structured and organized to facilitate the participation of scholars across cultures, disciplines and backgrounds.
  21. For the next three days, I have no doubt you will be treated to stimulating presentations and engaging discussions on various aspects of Islam. You will hear from some of the best minds in the field.
  22. I wish our foreign participants a pleasant stay in Malaysia and hope you will return home safely with fond memories of the country and its people. I look forward to reading the articles and learning about new research areas and new aspects of curricular, policy ideas and creative teaching-learning materials arising from this conference.

Thank you.

Wabillahi Taufiq Walhidayah

Wassalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.


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