“Is Clinical Psychology Useful, Shaykh?” Questions of Modernity, Tradition and Authority at Islamic Colleges

By Kirstine Sinclair
Submitted to Session P4762 (Tradition and Modernity: Reform, Gender, and Neo-traditionalism in Egypt and beyond, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In Cambridge, UK, and California, US, Islamic colleges offer students educational programmes bridging a long list of apparent dichotomies: tradition/modernity, West/non-West, Islam/non-Islam, science/Quran, liberal arts/religion. The essential bridge building tool is authentic Islam aiming at enabling future graduates to function as modern working and moral subjects. The aim of this paper is to discuss how these two Islamic universities draw on Islamic tradition, scripture and practice when educating young Muslims in minority settings. The paper takes as its point of departure a case study of Cambridge Muslim College (CMC) in the UK and Zaytuna College (Zaytuna) in Berkeley, California, with a particular interest in the role of the founding fathers, Shaykhs Abdal Hakim Murad and Hamza Yusuf. The study is based on ethnographic field work, observations and interviews with faculty members and students as well as written material produced by the two institutions explaining aims, curricula etc. Also, discussions with Danish Muslim and non-Muslim students on the matter have contributed valuables perspectives.

Both CMC and Zaytuna point to authentic Islam as the basis of their academic credibility and the basis for graduates’ ability to balance professional lives as Muslims in minority settings. But to the students, seemingly, it is sufficient to see the founding father and Shaykh as role model creating this balance Thus, it seems that the Shaykh himself establishes the link between the students, Muslim minority identity and the wider Muslim communities, and the continued success of the institutions depends on the ability of these remarkable individuals to confer authority from themselves to their institutions. This makes it relevant to study the connection between the Shaykh, the institution and questions of mediation of authority and authenticity. The central question posed in the paper is: How is Islamic authority understood and mediated at CMC and Zaytuna, and what role do tradition, the idea of authentic Islam and the role of the Shaykh play in this regard?

(333 Words)