The University Of Malaya Academy Of Islamic Studies Silver Jubilee Celebration

Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh

Salam Sejahtera

Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim

Beta bersyukur ke hadrat ILAHI kerana dengan izin dan rahmat dari Nya juga, Beta dapat berangkat hadir untuk menyempurnakan perasmian Majlis Sambutan Jubli Perak Akademi Pengajian Islam, Universiti Malaya pada pagi ini.

  1. All praise and gratitude to Allah the Almighty. Salutations upon the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, upon his esteemed family and devoted companions. I thank Allah the Almighty that with His permission and blessings, I am able to grace the Silver Jubilee Celebration of the Academy of Islamic Studies this morning. May I take this opportunity to congratulate the Academy on its 25th anniversary.
  2. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit an exhibition on “Scientific Excellence in Islamic Civilization” at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. The exhibition showcased scientific achievements during the Islamic renaissance between the 8th and 14th centuries. As I was walking through the exhibition, I was reminded yet again that scientific and intellectual excellence is not alien to Muslim culture and history. Within a hundred years of their appearance in history, Muslim scholars were already assimilating the scientific legacy of other cultures, notable the Greek. By the mid-9th century they had progressed beyond reception and assimilation towards a period of genuine creativity. They expanded the reach of existing knowledge, created new fields of learning and initiated the development of further disciplines. From the exhibition I learned that Muslim scientists invented the astrolabe in the early 8th century which enabled them to observe the position and determine the altitude of the Sun and other celestial bodies. By the dawn of the 9th century, Muslim scholars could determine the exact circumference of the earth at the equator. They preceded their European counterparts in developing instruments to determine altitude, azimuths and direction. They constructed globes and compasses and drew detailed world maps. Muslim physicians were removing cataracts with hollow needles over a thousand years before the West dared attempt such a task. They built upon the medical texts of the Greeks to produce new medical knowledge. Ibn Sina’s 10th century volume entitled The Cannon of Medicine set standards for medicine in Europe and remains an authority on the subject of medical history today.
  3. As I left the exhibition, I found myself pondering how it was that a newly emergent religious community with no background in science could achieve so much in such a short space of time. Clearly for scholars of the period, the Quranic injunction to understand the universe, the physical environment and even the workings of the human body, provided the impetus to seek knowledge and to master the sciences.
  4. It must be noted that the peak of Islamic civilisation took place within a setting that was truly cosmopolitan. Muslim scholars of the time had such an insatiable appetite for knowledge that they sought it wherever it was to be found. They were open-minded, collaborative and accommodating – having no misgivings about receiving ideas from Greeks, Romans, Indians and Chinese. They had no qualms about collaborating with Christians and Jews to translate writings in Greek, Hebrew and Latin into Arabic. We learn from history that one of the most proficient translators was a man named Hunayn Ibn Ishaq, a Nestorian Christian. The establishment of the famed Baitul Hikmah in Baghdad, one of the greatest libraries in the pre-modern world, was led by an Indian Buddhist named Baramika. Islamic history is permeated with examples of great cultural empathy and accommodation.
  5. The achievements in Islamic thought, in turn, inspired and induced as a result of direct intellectual contact, major intellectual developments in Jewish, Christian and, in Moghul India, Hindu thought. For example, when large scale translation of Arabic writing into Latin started in the 10th century, the ground was set for the emergence of European civilization. This model of Islamic civilization should serve as a source of intellectual empathy and emulation.
  6. Sadly, these centuries of distinction gave way to a long and steep decline. The spirit of inquiry and openness that was the hallmark of earlier centuries succumbed to a fanatical rejection of what were perceived as alien cultures. Not surprisingly this silo mentality spawned societies that became impervious to change. Meanwhile, the West surged ahead to embrace rational enquiry, innovation and science. The Renaissance, the Age of Discovery and the Industrial Revolution all passed the Islamic countries by.
  7. History should not just serve to point out how great we once were. We need to draw inspiration from history to draw important lessons to chart our future.
  8. We cannot recreate the past, as some would have us do. What we can do is to rejuvenate the spirit of inquiry and courageous thinking among Muslim scholars and students in our institutions of higher learning. We must discard the insularity of thought that afflicts so many in our community and replace it with a willingness to listen to, respect and learn from others. It is our strategic imperative. Only then can we rise to the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing world.
  9. A large part of the discussion concerning contemporary Muslim life continues to revolve round issues of legalism. Too much time is spent on proscriptions and prescriptions. There is a need to broaden the discussion to include the humanities, the social sciences, the arts and the broader contours of cultural, economic and social life, once the domain of such Islamic scholars as Ibn Khaldun. We should not shy away from applying reason and rationality to addressing the big issues of the day, within the parameters of an Islamic worldview.
  10. It is perhaps in the area of political economy that new thinking is most required. Muslim countries possess 70 percent of the world’s energy resources and 40 percent of the global supply of raw materials[1]. Despite this, human development indicators of the 57 OIC member countries are among the world’s lowest. OIC countries generate a meagre 5 per cent of world GDP. OIC’s share in global trade is only 6 per cent. The average literacy rate is less than 50 per cent[2]. Out of 50 countries classified as Low Development Countries, almost half (22) are OIC members. Seventeen of them are also classified as ‘Heavily Indebted Poor Countries’[3].
  11. Why is it that much of the Islamic world remains mired in poverty and backwardness, and how can we change this trend? With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the communist vision of organizing society has been rejected. The socialist vision of government owning the means of production has been discredited. Today the triumph of global capitalism appears complete. But capitalism—particularly of the Anglo-American variety—is itself afflicted by issues of rising inequality, job insecurity and environmental degradation. There is a need, I believe, for an alternative political economy to address the optimal design of economic and social policy. To humanize economic policy by combining the dynamism of the market economy with a compassionate concern for the underpriviledged and the need to preserve the environment. An Islamic approach, with its grounding in the deepest human values and a moral world order, is ideally suited to such a task.
  12. As educationists we should constantly be asking ourselves: what does it mean to be an educated person in the 21st century?[4]

Allow me to make a few suggestions.

  1. First and foremost, the 21st century will continue to be a period of scientific revolution. So much so that the development of a scientific mentality will be a crucial part of what it means to be a truly educated person. Even for the non-scientist, the scientific method will come to dominate an ever-widening range of human activity. The 20th century was shaped by developments in the physical sciences which enabled mankind to send astronauts into space and split the atom. The 21st century, it has been argued, will be defined by developments in the life sciences, which will lead to everything from new cures for chronic diseases, further agricultural revolutions, profound changes in energy technology and the development of new materials[5]. We must prepare our students to play leading roles in such an environment.
  2. Second, as globalisation proceeds apace, there must emerge a respect for difference and receptiveness to ideas. As a member of the global community, individuals will need to be able to work, to live and to thrive in multicultural settings. To be able to work and collaborate with people who have different perspectives and who come from different backgrounds. Students of Islamic Studies should not only have a deep understanding of Islamic doctrine and fundamentals. They should also be aware of other cultures and civilizations, their values and their contributions.
  3. Third, given the increasing complexity of the world, the educated person of the 21st century will have to be multi-disciplinary in orientation. Many of the most exciting areas of inquiry will cut across traditional disciplines. Many of the solutions to the world’s problems will require inter-disciplinary perspectives. Thus, it has become increasingly important, for example, to combine Islamic studies and computer science, or biology and agriculture.
  4. We must be prepared to invest in the right kind of education suitable for the 21st century, designed to shape young minds to the habit of rational enquiry. To deliver an environment where students are encouraged to continually seek knowledge and aspire to the highest levels of creative and scientific thought. In such an environment, what is important is “the authority of ideas, rather than the idea of authority”[6]. As Pro-Chancellor, it is my hope that the University of Malaya will live up to this challenge.
  5. Once again, I congratulate the Academy of Islamic Studies on its 25th anniversary. My sincere and humble prayer is that when the Academy celebrates its Golden Jubilee, it will boast a much greater list of achievements. That it will be renowned as a centre of excellence in religious understanding. That it would have contributed significantly to positioning Malaysia as a model Islamic nation. That it would have produced outstanding publications that act as chief points of reference on contemporary issues.

Dengan kalimah Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim, Beta mengisytiharkan sambutan Jubli Perak Akademi Pengajian Islam Universiti Malaya.

Wabillahi Taufiq Walhidayah,

Wassalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.


  1. Statistical Yearbook of the OIC Countries, 2005
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Lin See Yan, “The Idea of a University: The Harvard Experience”, 27 November, 2004.
  5. Larry Summers, “America must not surrender its lead in life sciences”, Financial Times, 29 January 2007.
  6. Larry Summers, “The Authority of Ideas”, in Harvard Business Review on Leadership in a Changed World, Harvard Business School Press, 2004.
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