Contemporary Islamic Synthesis

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Bibliotheca Alexandrina:  October 4 -5, 2003

Islam is perhaps the most misunderstood religion today among both non‑Muslims and Muslims alike. The West views Islam as quintessentially foreign and Muslims feel estranged from the ideals and precepts that once represented the driving force and theological underpinnings of Islam. These and other issues will be discussed in a two-day conference, which is organized by the American University’s Center for Global Peace and the Mohammed Said Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace. The conference is designed to offer reflections on questions such as: “What is the Islamic synthesis prevailing in the Muslim world today?” “What are the most important issues and forces behind this contemporary Islamic synthesis?” With these questions in mind, the conference provides an opportunity to construct a genuine intra-Muslim dialogue on a number of themes that are of particularly critical importance for present day Muslims, such as social justice, democracy, and civil society in Islamic thought and practice.  When considering Islam, what both Muslims and non-Muslims often overlook is that religion is not only an abstract theological doctrine, but also a historical dynamic that finds expression in the experiences and circumstances of people. Understanding the essence of Islam requires willingness to discover creativity in the tension between the real and the ideal, between expectations and achievements. The complexity of understanding Islam arises when people focus selectively on either the ideal or the real, while ignoring the endeavors of Muslims to reconcile them. The history of Islam is a story of never-ending efforts on the part of Muslims to comprehend the ideals of the Qur’an, and then transform this understanding into a reality. Every historical period and cultural milieu has given a different synthesis of Islamic command. Every generation in the Muslim world develops a unique, yet, integral Islamic synthesis, which distinguishes that generation from previous ones.  The conference will act as a catalyst for continuing dialogue and exchange amongst Muslim scholars of Islam, religious authorities, governmental officials, and community leaders in the Islamic world. The organizers hope that this will contribute to fostering a larger discourse through which Muslims derive new insight about the meaning of Islam for the contemporary world. An introductory session, four thematically organized panels and a concluding session will help structure the conference’s deliberations. Extracts from the statements and summaries of conference deliberations and conclusions will be compiled in a final report which will become the first in a series of reports on “Contemporary Islamic Synthesis,” published by the organizers.