Friday, 16 November 2018 14:15

The role of an Islamic think-tank

The progress of science and technology was anticipated to steadily shift the society from mass production of the industrial age to the connectivity and efficiency of the information system.

Little did we know that the information age caused chaos to the socio-ethical life of the people despite the wealth of data and statistics that it provided. No country or society in the world can halt the ongoing development of science and technology since the global world is becoming more cosmopolitan than ever. People are not only sharing information and technology, but also community values, culture and morality that are also threatened with new changes.

Comprehensive understanding of the pace of change is imperative for any scholar who seeks to navigate the challenges of the future with clear goals and direction. The need for renewal and reform in the ways of thinking and doing things is more widely felt following the globalist discourse of Industry 4.0 which was originally from Germany, and now Society 5.0 from Japan.

Leaders of the contemporary political, business and scientific world have been voicing ideas with the goal of ensuring that future citizens of the world can live a good life, if not better, than they had hitherto experienced. Recommendations for green industry, sustainable living, and smart society were lauded in various international meetings and policies drafted in forms of charters and agreements.

Clear goals and direction start with astute leadership. Leadership in Islam does not only signify the high position of the leader above subordinates, but it is more in the nature of a trust (amanah) that comes with responsibility and demand for efficacy. Emphasis on leadership as an essential quality of a man was greatly emphasised by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when he said that, “Each of you is a leader, and each of you will be held responsible for his leadership”. As the bearer of God-ordained trust in governance, leaders of the Muslim world, both in politics and academia are expected to realise the world view of Islam in facing future challenges.

Efforts towards a global smart society must be blended carefully with wisdom and consciousness since the Islamic vision of reality and truth has always been both for this world and the hereafter.

Another saying of the Prophet narrated by Imam Muslim says that among the characteristics of this religion (Islam) is sincere advice (nasihah) to the ruler and the people. Good advice for leaders will be best given through in-depth research and thoughtful ideas. Who else can be expected to nurture and manifest the characteristics of a good advisor if not a research institute and think-tank? An organisation based on collective efforts and various specialities should be deemed better than the opinion of an individual scholar.

In the contemporary Islamic jurisprudence discourse, collective reasoning (ijtihad jama’i) is now better accepted than personal judgment. An Islamic think-tank not only concerns itself with the abundant knowledge of the past, but more importantly, to have a comprehensive understanding of the contemporary world, both from the Islamic viewpoint and the hegemonising-corporatist trends. The expected output would be actionable policy recommendations that may be adopted and applied by receptive leaders.

Contributions of an Islamic think-tank are best understood through its three main beneficiaries, the three C’s. The first C is the “Corpus of knowledge”, whereby the research undertaken by an Islamic think-tank enriches the knowledge repository of the Islamic heritage. Intellectual discussion of governance will not only be viewed from the conventional-western perspectives, but more importantly through the revival and integration of Islamic ideas into practical problem solvers. High-quality scholarship and constructive criticism will usher the path to reform although some resistance can also be anticipated.

The second C is the “Country”. One can hardly doubt that a successful think-tank plays a crucial role in assisting the leadership of a country towards advancement of balanced development. Economic and geopolitical challenges are constantly challenging foundational principles of nation-building.

An Islamic think-tank equipped with sound knowledge of Maqasid Syariah (the higher objectives of Syariah) as governing principles in all its activities will always be best in advising a Muslim majority country towards peace and prosperity.

Issues like global terrorism and regional security, renewable energy, climate change, and sustainability, as well as fintech and artificial intelligence, are in dire need of comprehensive Islamic and practical input.

The third C is the “Community”. Contribution by a think-tank should also be seen in the community that it serves.

Rapid advancement in technology and the proliferation of social media has set radical changes in the way people communicate and exemplify a new definition of “freedom of expression”.

It brings changes into the way people buy things, vote for representatives, treat illnesses, getting a higher education degree, operate daily chores and even spreading twisted and extreme thoughts.

These are the kind of challenges that are necessary for any think-tank in the Muslim world to pay attention to and constantly guard against becoming another dysfunctional organisation that is separated from reality.

It is highly advisable that a context-bound implementation of Islamic precepts that considers all societal phenomena in its totality is made a priority.

The International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia is one such think-tank that just observed its 10th anniversary.

Consistent with the values and ideals mentioned above, IAIS Malaysia has for the past 10 years engaged in constructive dialogue with other civilisations and cultures and produced quality research outputs.

Efforts for civilisational renewal in discourses concerning law and governance, peace and security, balanced economic development, environment and ethics are undertaken in order to utilise the rich resources and principle of Islam to realise the Quranic vision of this religion as a blessing for all creatures (rahmatan lil alamin).

It is earnestly hoped that the 10th anniversary of IAIS Malaysia will further energise the institute to continue the strive for renewal (tajdid) of corpus of Islamic knowledge, reform (islah) of the country’s governance and the character and attitude of the people.


Mohd Fariz Zainal Abdullah is the head of Human Resource and Administration of International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.

Published in: New Straits Times, Friday 16 November 2018

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