|Hashmi Will Examine Tension for Muslims Between Modernity and Tradition
April 19, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz
by Darcie Draudt ‘07
Islam and Muslim identity have always been personally relevant and intriguing to Omer Hashmi ’07. Over the past four years, Hashmi, born to Muslim Indian parents and raised in Norcross, Ga., has taken nearly every course on Islam offered at Davidson, and been a member of the Muslim Student Association.
Now, as the winner of a $25,000 grant from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation, Hashmi will travel around the world for a year to explore how students in madrasas, or Muslim primary schools, are facing the same questions he does about reconciling their religion in a modern society.
|Hashmi will study Muslim education in seven countries.|
Hashmi’s project, entitled “Madrasas in Modernity: Educating Islam for Future Muslims,” will examine these Islamic primary schools that teach children and young adults about Islamic doctrine, law, language, and history.
While madrasas have been sensationalized as breeding grounds for terrorism, fundamentalism, and literalism, Hashmi said most serve only to preserve traditional Islamic practices and scholarship. He is interested in how madrasas students negotiate their religion with the practicalities of living in non-Islamic countries.
“Diasporic Muslim communities face a lot of different issues,” Hashmi said. “There’s a tension between the religious and cultural values of Islam and the culture of modernity.”
Hashmi will visit seven countries—Spain, France, Germany, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, India, and New Zealand—to try to answer questions such as “How do you navigate between your Muslim and Western identity?” “Can you pick and choose elements of both?” To what extent have these Muslim communities integrated to Western culture? Do they practice a syncretised Islam or have they adopted something that is altogether different? Finally, what do second and third generation Muslims learn from their immigrant parents and communities? What do they teach them?
In each country, he will look at how students at the madrasas reconcile their experiences inside and outside of the school, and how the school addresses the secular and non-Islamic cultures of that particular country.
“While I am skeptical about finding a coherent, unified and recognizable Islamic perspective about managing identity, I hope to explore the ways in which young Muslims bridge their Muslim and modern identities. I’ll not only speak with students, but also go to universities to speak with scholars and academics,” he said. “Then I can compare the scholarly and administrative perspective with the indigenous ones.”
According to Hashmi, Muslim youth attend madrasas for various reasons. For some, it is to read and even memorize the Qur’an or to learn Arabic. For others, the madrasa provides a place to study Islamic history or retain connections to their Islamic identities. Some go to learn the laws associated with jurisprudence in Islam, while others go to learn how to become Islamic scholars or ministers.
But in modernity, all are also confronted with issues outside the Muslim realm. “At the crux of the project are issues of integration and assimilation,” Hashmi said.
As a second-generation American brought up by a traditional Islamic family, he said he has always deliberated the role of the religion in his life. “It’s something I’ve struggled with every day, because the line between culture and religion in Islam is so blurred,” he said. “I don’t pretend that I’m Muslim, and I don’t pretend that I’m not Muslim,” he said. “But it’s certainly part of my identity.”
Hashmi’s project advisor, Professor Scott Denham, said “Omer’s project has a feeling of necessity. Given the war in Iraq and terrorism, this is really necessary. We need people who are confident to understand and be a mediator of ideas across cultures. He’ll have to come back and share what he’s learned.”
“Many scholars suggest that Islam right now is in the midst of a Reformation,” Hashmi said. “I don’t necessarily want to be involved as a reformer, but I don’t want to be a passive observer either. The battle for Islamic modernity will be fought in these schools. Education as a force for change is a modern phenomenon.”
Through his experience abroad, Hashmi hopes to better understand the current global state of Islam for future studies. He intends to study law or history after returning from his Watson experience.
Davidson is a highly selectgive independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked in the top ten liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine.
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Posted By: Bill Giduz