Reforms in Islamic Education

9-10 April 2011
Selwyn College, University of Cambridge

The post-9/11 era has witnessed intense international interest and scrutiny of Islamic education as well as Islamic schools. While there has been a growing field of research on reforms in Islamic education, the tendency is to view these reforms as reactions to external pressure and expectations, rather than actions initiated, contested and negotiated by and among Muslims. What is often overlooked is the need to locate these reforms within broad historical, political and socio-cultural contexts beyond the events of 9/11.

This 2-day conference, jointly organised by the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies (Cambridge) and the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World (Edinburgh), aims to fill this gap. The conference will bring together internationally renowned academics to raise awareness on reforms in Islamic education by presenting critical perspectives and discussing practical suggestions.

Islamic education refers to all forms of teaching and learning, whether formal, informal or non-formal, that are based on the principles and values of Islam. An Islamic school is any educational institution that emphasises the transmission of Islamic knowledge and the inculcation of Islamic values and ethos. Encompassing a variety of types and levels, Islamic schools are known by different names across societies, such as ‘madrasa’, ‘pesantren’, ‘Darul Uloom’, ‘Islamic faith school’ and ‘Islamic higher institution’.

Read about the resulting report: Reforms in Islamic Education

Conference Programme

DAY 1 Saturday 9 April 2011

9.00-9.30 Registration & Refreshments (Chadwick Room/Dining Hall)
9.30-10.00 Welcome & Introduction
Professor Yasir Suleiman & Professor Hugh Goddard
10.00-12.00 Session 1 (Chadwick Room)
Chair – Professor Yasir Suleiman
•Professor Tariq Ramadan (University of Oxford)
Islamic Education in a Pluralistic Society: Substance and Objectives
•Professor Michael S. Merry (University of Amsterdam)
Islamic Education in Europe and North America: Old and New Developments
•Professor Azyumardi Azra (Graduate School State Islamic University, Jakarta)
Reforms in Islamic Education: A Global Perspective Seen from the Indonesian Case
12.00-13.30 Lunch (Dining Hall)
13.30-15.00 Session 2 (Chadwick Room)
Chair – Paul Anderson
•Abdullah Trevathan (Roehampton University) & Dr Nadeem Memon (University of Toronto)
Understanding Current Curriculum Models of Islamic Schools in the West
•Professor Rosnani Hashim (International Islamic University Malaysia)
Transformative Islamic Education through a Transformative Pedagogy
•Mujadad Zaman (University of Cambridge) Pedagogies of the Possible: Re-examining Educational Practice and Value within the Madrasa and the University
15.00-15.30 Tea & Coffee Break (Dining Hall)
15.30-17.00 Session 3 (Chadwick Room)
Chair – Mohammed Abdul-Aziz
•Nader Al-Refai (University of Derby) & Professor Christopher Bagley (University of Southampton)
Citizenship Education: Muslim Pupils in Muslim and State Secondary Schools in Britain
•Dr Mark Sedgwick (Aarhus University) Islamic Education in Non-Islamic State Schools: The Danish Case
•Dr Jenny Berglund (Södertörn University)
Singing and Music as Part of Islamic Religious Education in Sweden
19.30-21.30 Conference Dinner (King’s College – invitation only)

DAY 2 – Sunday 10th April
9.00-10.30 Session 4 (Chadwick Room)
Chair – Dr Saeko Yazaki
•Professor Sebastian Günther (University of Göttingen)
New Interdisciplinary Approaches to Islamic Education in Germany
•Professor Dr Jamal Malik (University of Erfurt)
Training Objectives for Islamic Studies at German Universities: What Academically Trained Personnel are Needed by Muslim Congregations in Germany?
•Elif Medeni (University of Vienna)
Developing Educational Standards for Islamic Religious Education
10.30-11.00 Tea & Coffee Break (Dining Hall)
11.00-12.30 Session 5 (Chadwick Room)
Chair – Tom Lea
•Dr Reza Arjmand (Stockholm University)
A Comparative Study on Gulf Countries with a Focus on Recent Changes within the Religious Component of the Formal Curricula and Other Related Issues
•Dr Noha El-Bassiouny (German University in Cairo), Hagar Adib (German University in Cairo) & Dr Sanaa Makhlouf (American University in Cairo)
Islamic Character Education in the Face of Childhood Consumerism
•Maryam Serajiantehrani (Allameh Tabatabai University) Children’s Literature: Effective Means of Islamic Education
12.30-13.30 Lunch (New SCR)
13.30-15.00 Session 6 (Chadwick Room)
Chair – Professor Hugh Goddard
•Misbahur Rehman (University of Erfurt) Curricular Reforms in Pakistani Madrasas: The Voices from Within
•Dr Charlene Tan (Nanyang Technological University) Reforming Madrasah Curriculum in an Era of Globalisation: The Singapore Case
•Dr Srawut Aree (Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok)
Santichon Islamic School: Model for Islamic Private School in Minority Context
15.00-15.30 Tea & Coffee Break (Dining Hall)
15.30-17.00 Session 7 (Chadwick Room)
Chair – Dr Charlene Tan
•Ann Witulski (University of Florida)Constructing the State-Society Distinction: Islamic Education Curriculum Conflicts in Morocco
•Dr Yahia Baiza (Institute of Ismaili Studies)
Madrasa Education in Afghanistan: A Choice between Reform and Obliteration
•Dr des Nagihan Haliloğlu (Tughra Books)
Breaking the Headscarf Ban in Secular Turkey: An Alternative Educational Establishment in Istanbul
17.00-17.15 Concluding Remarks (Chadwick Room)
Professor Yasir Suleiman & Professor Hugh Goddard
19.00-21.00 Dinner (India House, 31 Newnham Road, Cambridge CB3 9EY)

Each session consists of three 20 minute conference papers followed by discussion.

Reforms in Education Speaker Abstracts

News and Media

Classroom lessons in Islamic reform, Cambridge University Research News, 8 April 2011

The education of young Muslims is becoming a central arena for Islamic reform, as Islamic scholars attempt to negotiate an increasingly complex relationship between Islam and western culture, an international conference will hear this weekend.

Specialists from more than 15 countries will gather at the University of Cambridge’s Centre of Islamic Studies on Saturday (9 April), for a two-day event examining reforms that are affecting Islamic education in different ways around the world. Their papers, and a summary of their findings, will also be made available to the public through the Centre’s website:

Since the horrific events of 9/11, Islamic faith schools have been the subject of intense scrutiny, provoked by the fear that some have become potential breeding grounds for radicalised extremists. Organisers of the Cambridge conference, however, believe that the state of Islamic education is more complex. They argue that longer-term trends of modernisation and globalisation are continuing to shape the way that students are educated about Islam, and the development of faith-based education, and are doing so in different ways. The conference, which features delegates from both Muslim-majority and minority countries, will attempt to unravel how and why Islamic education is changing around the world, and what the results have been. “Because of the demonization of Islamic education post-9/11, there is a general presumption that it is purely shaped by political pressures and political concerns,” Professor Yasir Suleiman, the Centre’s Director, said. “In fact, the way in which Islam is taught and learned – and the impact that has on young Muslims – is driven by much more complex factors. Muslims often use the word tarbiya, which does not mean simply education, but refers to holistic moral and ethical formation. That process of character formation is rooted in debates and ideals that are much more subtle and diverse than headlines in the media sometimes suggest. And it is of great interest today in the context of debates about citizenship and contributions to civil society.”

The conference organisers define Islamic education as “all forms of teaching and learning that are based on the principles and values of Islam.” This includes not just Islamic faith schools and tertiary education institutions, but less formal institutions, outside any recognised school system. The countries represented will range from the United Kingdom, the United States, Denmark and Canada, to Morocco, Egypt, Indonesia and Iran. In each case, delegates will be asked to reflect on how and why Islamic education is changing and what the consequences appear to be for the development of Muslim students. Organisers hope that one result will be the exchange of good practice between the different countries involved. In one sense, Islamic education worldwide is affected by common concerns. The growth in human scientific knowledge, for example, raises questions about the relevance of faith to the way that individuals and societies understand and interpret the world. How those problems are handled by individual education institutions, however, depends on local or national context. The way in which young Muslims are taught about faith and citizenship, for example, will vary depending on whether or not they live in a country in which Islam is the majority religion. In the Middle East, a growing demand for democratization has changed people’s expectations about what education is supposed to deliver. Elsewhere, faith schools are expected to teach Islam as part of a broader religious education in an avowedly secular national curriculum.

The conference will attempt to explain how Islamic education is responding to these different problems in these different settings, and how that is changing the way students are taught about their religion. “Islamic education is engaged in a whole range of different reforms, which are not driven simply by Western concerns about radicalisation” Professor Suleiman added.

“If we understand its development simply as a response to international politics, then the other influences shaping the education young Muslims receive will be overlooked and the consequences will not be addressed. We hope that this conference will explain the bigger picture, for the benefit of Muslims and non-Muslims, as well as those involved in faith-based education of whatever tradition.”

The conference is organised by the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge, in association with the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World at the University of Edinburgh, and by Dr Charlene Tan, Singapore, who was a Visiting Fellow at the Centre of Islamic Studies in Cambridge in 2009