DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 May) — When Al Qalam Institute was formally set up in Ateneo de Davao University, many asked me, “what is an Islamic institute doing in a Catholic, Jesuit, Filipino university?” My answer has always been, this is an “interreligious dialogue in action.”
The Al Qalam Institute has this vision: “Al Qalam is an institute for Islam, Muslims and peoples of Mindanao and their cultural links to Southeast Asian communities, committed to strengthen spirituality and belonging to a bigger humanity and participating actively in the co-creation and nurturing of a society founded on social justice, gender equity, multiculturalism, religious pluralism, peace and sustainable human development, as mutually shared values of the Ignatian Spirituality.”
The vision is in line with that of the Ateneo de Davao University’s own Mission Statement: “The Ateneo de Davao excels in the formation of leaders for the Philippine Church and society, especially for Mindanao. It excels further in the promotion of the faith that does justice, in cultural sensitivity and transformation, and in inter-religious dialogue, particularly with the Muslim and Lumad communities of Mindanao. It promotes communities touched and transformed by the faith, communities of peace and human well-being, culturally resilient yet able to adapt to the modern world. It promotes social justice, gender equality, good governance, the creation of wealth and its equitable distribution. It engages vigorously in environmental protection, the preservation of bio-diversity, and the promotion of renewable energy. It leads in Philippine educational reform, especially for the peoples of Southern Philippines.”
The study of Islam should not be limited to Muslims alone. In fact, Georgetown University (a Jesuit university) in Washington DC, USA, has the Department of Islamic and Arabic Studies. The university also houses the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU).
The website of this center tells us that it is a “Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding” It was founded in 1993 by an agreement between the Fondation pour L’Entente entre Chretiens et Musulmans, Geneva and Georgetown University to build stronger bridges of understanding between the Muslim world and the West as well as between Islam and Christianity. The Center’s mission is to improve relations between the Muslim world and the West and enhance understanding of Muslims in the West.
The Commission on Higher Education Region 11 Office approved the AB Islamic Studies Major in Political Economy early last April 2014. This curriculum is in line with the CMO 30 of the CHED. It was a course that Al Qalam developed, compliance with CMO 30, for almost two years.
What is then the AB Islamic Studies of Ateneo de Davao University?
Based on our proposal with the CHED, the course can be summarized as: “The AB Islamic Studies program is the Islamic Studies curriculum designed by Al Qalam to respond to the need for scholars and peace advocates in the Philippines especially in Mindanao to have an authentic appreciation of and specialized knowledge and skills in Islamic faith, culture, and political economic practice. The focus of the program is to prepare a generation of scholars in the applied fields of Islamic studies, a clear industry need today.
Research has shown that most Muslim Filipinos face the challenge of interpreting and understanding the core values and principles of Islam in the context of modernity. This is not surprising since Filipino Muslim religious often subscribe to various Middle Eastern schools of thought, which can differ in terms of the interpretation, appreciation and application of Islamic values and principles. These variations in interpretations can be thought of promoting unity among Muslims, which on the contrary may prevent the Muslim community from fully integrating into the mainstream Philippine society.
Current political developments anticipate the emergence of a new state in political and economic relations and the establishment of new governance structures that would necessitate even more the development of a new breed of cultural, religious, economic, and political leaders who are excellently educated in the Islamic tradition, deeply aware of the opportunities and threats modernity brings to that tradition, and well-honed in principle – based and transparency – oriented governance.
Housed by the Ateneo de Davao University, the AB Islamic Studies offers courses in leadership and governance. These curricular offerings will be based on both Jesuit educational principles and similar or identical Islamic values such as the principle of din (Islamic way of life) that encompasses the economic, social, cultural, as well as the political and legal foundations of human relations.
The AB Islamic Studies will specialize in the field of Political Economy. Political economy is the study of the relations between economic conditions and political structures of a society. It provides for analytical tools for the social and political dynamics in societies.
The knowledge of political economy will serve as a useful analytical tool for future leaders and peace advocates in Philippine society and the Southeast Asian region.
With regard to the program requirements, the ABIS is a four-year degree program. The course is composed of (1) the CHED mandated courses, (2) Ateneo de Davao University core courses and (3) Program courses. Students, in order to be conferred the degree of ABIS, must earn a total of 217 units, with either 6 units of Thesis writing or On-the-Job Training.
Al Qalam through its AB Islamic Studies’ focus is on the Muslim community of Mindanao, the Ateneo community, and the areas of the Bangsamoro political entity. The program is not a traditional madrasah or Islamic seminary. Our goal is not to train imams or ustadzes. But, as part of the private universities in the country today, we aim to use Islamic lens and applying social sciences at the undergrad level to give the students (Muslims and non Muslims) an education that will serve them in whatever career they choose as a madrasah teacher, a technocrat for the Bangsamoro, a Shariah lawyer, an expert in Islamic finance and Halal world market, and a peace advocate working in government and non government institutions.
[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Qun Faya Qun means "'Be! and it is." When Allah (subhanwatala) thinks of anything that He wants to create, He just says Qun Faya Qun and the things come into existence. It is also part of the last verse of Surratul Yaasin which is the heart of the Holy Quran. This column aims to remind the Muslim communities of the nature and character of Allah (SWT), and that we need humility and good character in life]