‘Islamic education institutes must upgrade programmes’

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TERTIARY education institutions are under pressure to improve their relative government-funded Islamic studies programmes due to stiffer competition for funding, a senior academic official said yesterday.

Academic programmes in tertiary Islamic education institutions are increasing, said Professor Datuk Dr Osman Bakar, the Director of Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Centre for Islamic Studies (SOASCIS), Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD).

This increase have resulted in stronger competition between institutions to win the government funding for the programmes, he said.

He added this competition is made more challenging as it is inescapably linked to competition for academic ranking and these are among the reasons that these programmes are under increasing pressure to remain relevant and competitive.

In a welcoming remark as Chair of the 5th SOASCIS International Conference (SICON 5) Organising Committee, Professor Datuk Dr Osman said in spite of this, some of the programmes continue to remain indifferent to the challenges now facing all academic courses in universities and those in light of the present and possible future challenges to Islamic studies.

Minister of Religious Affairs, YB Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Hj Awang Badaruddin Pengarah Dato Paduka Hj Awang Othman launched the conference.

The minister, in his speech during the launch, said contemporary realities in various branches of knowledge and expertise should be observed and studied according to Islamic perspectives.

He said the process of Islamisation of knowledge will take a long time, but it is not wrong for us to be involved in this educational agenda.

“As an educational target, it is not enough to include the general modern subjects into the religious schooling system as (can now be found) both at the primary and secondary school levels,” he said.

More importantly, he added, is to “make Islamic studies at the college and university levels more comprehensive so as to include fields of study with which Islam has no problem in the past.”

He said in fact, “it is only proper that we do not just accept these fields of study as part of Islamic studies but also look at them and learn them in the light of Islamic thought and theories.”

“Philosophically speaking, a change is needed in the curriculum design and teaching of Islamic studies in accordance with the present realities,” he said.

“This needed change means that we have to innovate and even think of entrepreneurship in the practical sense.”

YB Pehin Dato Hj Badaruddin then rhetorically asked how much change are people willing to take and tolerate in the area of Islamic studies.

“I think we need to strike a balance. A kind of Wasatiyyah position is needed,” said the minister.

“There are things that are not to be changed, because there are teachings of Islam that cannot be changed and there are human needs that will never change.”

“And there are things that need to be changed because of certain changing realities in the world around us,” YB Pehin added. “So it is a question of how to strike a balance between two extremes: One extreme is the belief that Islamic studies could not change and the other extreme is the tendency to go for excessive changes.”

YB Pehin also expressed his belief that the theme of SICON 5, “Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Contemporary Islamic Studies: Possibilities in light of the Traditional Ideas of Ijtihad (Intellectual creativity), Tajdid (Renewal), Islah (Reformation) and Bid’ah (Innovation)”, can help enhance efforts to bring about positive changes in the development of Islamic studies.

“Certainly, these positive developments will help to broaden the field of Islamic studies and of knowledge generally with all their benefits,” he said.

Held from May 9-11, this year’s SICON is themed “Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Contemporary Islamic Studies: Possibilities in light of the Traditional Ideas of Ijtihad (Intellectual creativity), Tajdid (Renewal), Islah (Reformation) and Bid’ah (Innovation)”.

The discussions will focus on innovative and entrepreneurial approaches to the contemporary teaching of Islamic studies, highlighting new ideas and insights on how to improve it to meet the needs of contemporary society.

The Brunei Times